Connections are everything! (Currently reading: Felten et al., 2023)

Just a quick post to recommend a book: “Connections Are Everything: A College Student’s Guide to Relationship-Rich Education” by Felten et al. (2023), which is available as a free e-book, so no excuse for not reading it!

You might remember that I wrote about the “Relationship-Rich Education” book (Felten & Labert, 2020) a while back, and this new book is on the same topic, but written addressed to students. On top of the research that the earlier book was based on, it also includes interviews conducted during the pandemic, where building relationships “on campus” was even more difficult than usual.

I really enjoyed reading the book, mostly because I really appreciate that they made their research available in a format that is easily accessible to students. Even though I feel that we, as teachers, should take responsibility for building relationships with our students, and create opportunities for students to build relationships among themselves and with other staff or people in our network, I believe that at the same time we need to let students know about the benefits of having strong relationships (plural — many, not just one!): socially, academically, and for their general well-being. For some students, typically the more “traditional” students, this is easy. They might come with already existing relationships because their parents might have studied with their teachers or live next to them. But for the “new majority” students, there might be no built-in ways to make those connections, and it might be scary and intimidating to approach people, and especially to ask for help.

The book then has two main messages:

  1. You are not alone! Most students at university struggle at some point academically or socially, this is very normal when you are thrown into a new, unfamiliar situation
  2. You can act! Even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, there are things you can do to build supportive relationships around you.

The rest of the book then gives lots of narratives from real students sharing their experiences, as well as reflection questions and practical tips for what students can do, for example to “start with one”. Even though the title of the book is about relationship-RICH education, of course relationships need to be built one by one. So start easy, start with one! And one relationship is likely to open up more doors to more new people. That one person can be a friend that you study with, or a professor (who might not even be aware of the importance their encouragement has for you), or a member of staff (whose job it might or might not be to care for students, but checking out student support services is definitely a good place to start, and there are probably lots of resources available at every campus!). And don’t worry if you haven’t made that first connection yet, it is never too late to start! And starting can be very low-threshold: Following relevant accounts on social media, figuring out what resources are available on campus, smiling at a peer in class.

This whole book is full of really nice and actionable advice and “high impact practices” and how to make the most out of them, and how to build your “relationship constellation”, which reminds me a lot of our mentoring map. And there are more resources available on the book’s website, so go check it out!

Felten, P., Lambert, L. M., Artze-Vega, I., & Tapia, O. R. M. (2023). Connections Are Everything: A College Student’s Guide to Relationship-Rich Education. JHU Press.

Free e-book available at:

Podcast episode at:

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