Evaluation of Archway: A Guided Program for First-Year Student Success and Mental Health and Wellbeing
First-year students entering postsecondary must navigate a new and complex academic and social environment. Research indicates that this transition is challenging and stressful – academically, emotionally and socially – and can have negative impacts on mental health and wellbeing during what is an important developmental period. Given the COVID‑19 pandemic, the incoming 2020 cohort of first-year students will face heightened and new challenges. Most will have spent the conclusion of high school learning virtually while in quarantine in an uncertain and difficult time, to then experience their first year of university living, learning and socializing off-campus, virtually and remotely. In response to COVID‑19 and with an appreciation of the considerable stresses students face generally, and particularly in 2020-21 and the potential effects on mental health and well-being, McMaster University has developed an innovative program to support students, entitled Archway. This initiative has been developed to help prevent and intervene early to address common transitional issues for students, which can influence mental health and well-being, aiming to increase: student connectedness (sense of belonging), student supports (opportunities and programs to promote academic success, social-emotional learning and positive health and wellbeing); and student retention (academic success). The current proposal aims to evaluate Archway, to gain a better understanding the transition into first-year for those students who engage and participate in Archway at various levels. The study will not only help to determine the effect of this program for students during COVID-19, but it will help us to better understand the challenges of this transition broadly and to inform future efforts to support students and protect mental health and wellbeing, using virtual and remote platforms and mechanisms to meet the increasingly diverse needs and circumstances of students.