UR Endeavor students on a trip to Washington, D.C.
Students with Richmond Endeavor visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on a trip to D.C. in January 2023.

Right start: Making first-year connections

June 3, 2024


The first year of college is often a momentous transition as students learn to navigate a new environment, get to know roommates and new friends, and make decisions about their classes. That’s why students like Ella Colmenares sign up for Richmond Endeavor, a living learning community that is celebrating its fifth year.

“I thought arriving early to college would really help me get a head start navigating new friendships, especially as an introvert,” said Colmenares, a rising sophomore.

UR has long had orientation programs and special courses targeted at helping students through this period of change. But in 2019, Richmond Endeavor began as an intentional, yearlong experience designed to help students excel academically and make the most of their time at the University.

Richmond Endeavor students from last year's class celebrate a successful kayak trip on the James River.

Orientation programs and themed living-learning communities combine into a distinctive experience, beginning with the three-day Endeavor Pre-Orientation Experience.

“It really helps them start off their journey at UR,” said Sage Ober, associate director of new student and transition programs. “Every year, we hear from students who say that the Endeavor Pre-Orientation Experience set them up for success and allowed them to find friends and a community before classes even started.”

Once on campus, groups of students live together as a cohort in Lora Robins Court and enroll in a series of courses taught by a dedicated faculty advisor. An upper-class peer mentor offers insights into life at Richmond, while out-of-classroom experiences introduce students to the opportunities and resources on campus, in the city, and around the region. Some past events include exploring D.C., kayaking on the James, and enjoying the rides at Kings Dominion.

“Most nights after orientation and throughout the year, you could find a huge group of us in the common room swapping stories, playing Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza, and learning about each other’s lives. It was amazing to have such an involved, supportive community immediately after moving in,” Colmenares said. Through the program, she met many of her friends at UR, including her best friend and roommate.

The first year Endeavor was offered, 64 students signed up for four themed communities on civic journalism, astrobiology, genetics in the environment, and cross-cultural storytelling. Next year, Endeavor will have 12 communities and approximately 200 first-year students. Themes will cross nearly every discipline, from Dao of Leadership and Science Math and Research Training to Why Equality is Controversial and The Health of Nations.

Some students apply to a community because they want a leg up in their expected major. Others want to delve more deeply into a topic they’re curious or passionate about while completing required first-year seminar courses.

Close interactions with faculty are also key to the program. Endeavor faculty teach the community courses and serve as academic advisors, helping students plan their courses until they declare a major. Students learn how to reach out to faculty and develop relationships as they continue at Richmond.

Rising sophomore Keagan McNulty joined jazz ensemble because of music professor Michael Davison, who taught Salsa Meets Jazz. “He needed an alto saxophone player in his band. Even though I was very hesitant and had not played in three years, I gave it a shot,” McNulty said. His favorite Endeavor memories include taking dance lessons from a Cuban dance instructor and enjoying an authentic Cuban meal with his other classmates at Davison’s house. “Three of my best friends on campus came from our little Endeavor group.”

Both Colmenares and McNulty will serve as Endeavor Navigators in the fall to help first-year students.

“I will be their peer mentor, assisting in their acclimation to UR and hopefully creating meaningful relationships with each and every one of them,” said McNulty.  

Penny Hu, who graduated in 2023, was a member of the 2019-20 Endeavor cohort in the Geographic Dimensions of Global Development community, taught by David Salisbury, associate professor of geography, environment, and sustainability. She chose the subject because she wanted to explore her academic options and, as an international student from China, was interested in learning more about global perspectives.

Hu later went on to study computer science and business administration and now works as a financial planning and liquidity analyst at McKinsey. But, she said, Richmond Endeavor inspired her to continue her living-learning experience by applying to the Sophomore Scholars in Residence program. The following year, she enrolled in Stories of Work, Life, and Fulfillment with Scott Johnson, associate professor of communication studies.

“The SSIR was the biggest gift Richmond has given me,” Hu said. Johnson continues to mentor her and she considers him “kind of my American family, even now after graduation.”

Ober said those close relationships — whether it’s the friendships students make, or the faculty mentors they find — are at the heart of Endeavor and can have a lasting impact on a students’ journey.

“Endeavor creates a special bond,” she said. “It creates a unique experience and a supportive place to land. Learning how to develop those relationships is going to have an impact on where students end up.”