Every Monday night at 9 p.m., first-semester freshman students at Point Loma Nazarene University gather in their dorm halls to participate in Alpha, a mentoring program where upperclass student leaders provide conversations and community for their underclass peers.
Alpha has been a part of PLNU’s first-year orientation for almost a decade. Designed by Melanie Wolf, current director of discipleship ministries, Alpha acts as an aid in the transition between high school and college life.
“When you separate from what was normal, living at home or whatever that looked like, there’s this transition and hopeful integration that happens,” said AJ Pitkin, director of new student engagement. “Our desire is that all freshmen thrive at Loma and part of thriving is believing that you belong.”
The program was created so that first-year students can gather in a small-group environment. While Alpha has a predetermined curriculum, first-years are able to work with their leaders to make it their own.
“The goal for our Alpha leaders is that they are entering the lives of first-years and are willing to pivot to whatever their needs are,” Pitkin said. “They help normalize the experience that you might not make your best friends in the first six weeks of being in school or that you might be interested in changing your major.”
The impact of the Alpha program continues beyond the Monday night meetings, providing opportunities for participants, leaders and staff members to grow themselves within the spaces they have created.
“Alpha helped me form a community,” said Elizabeth Arthur, first-year business administration major. “It helped me get to know more about our school and learn things that only upperclassmen would know.”
While staff might not connect directly to the first-year community, they still benefit from getting to know students of all years through the Alpha process.
“Most of my connections to first-year students are with the leaders…that’s what consistently blows me away,” Pitkin said. “They are volunteering their time, giving up 8-10 hours a week because they say that freshman students matter. That is just super powerful.”
Second-year journalism major Eden Bombino was offered a position as an Alpha leader after working through the application process in spring 2022.
“I had an awesome leader and such a good experience in Alpha getting close to girls in my hall that I wouldn’t have talked to on my own. I wanted to be a part of that for other people,” Bombino said.
When transitioning from a participant to a leader, Bombino had to adjust her expectations to fit the needs of her “Alphies,” the members of her Alpha group.
“It was really weird because I think I was expecting to share more about myself than I actually ended up doing. It was hard to remove myself from the situation and make it about the girls,” Bombino said.
Alpha is an opportunity for students to get plugged-in to the greater PLNU community, both as first-year students or upperclass leaders.
“We all have to learn to lead ourselves before we can lead others. Part of my job is developing students who are interested in leading anywhere in their life and learning how to have courageous and compassionate conversations,” Pitkin said.
Alpha applications for fall 2023 are due on Friday, Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. through the Student Life and Formation portal. For more information, check out @plnualphagroups on Instagram.
Written By: Anna Locher