The Importance of Belonging


The Furman alumni community is central to our focus on student thriving.

By Furman University President Elizabeth Davis

We are social creatures. We have an innate need for connection, even those of us who are inclined to introversion. The experience of a global pandemic made this clear through our everyday routines and missed gatherings. When we go too long without feeling like we are part of something or when there’s an acute loss of social connection, we feel an emptiness in our bones. Unfortunately, some people feel this without being forced into isolation by a virus. If they lack a sense of belonging, they can feel alone standing in the middle of a crowd.

Belonging is important not only for the person standing in the crowd feeling alone – it’s important for the crowd itself. It’s symbiotic. Crowds, communities like ours, thrive when they create a sense of support for their members. The more support the community feels, the more people feel like they belong, the more everyone thrives.

We have continued our work to bolster thriving at Furman, focusing on the student experience. This semester, we extended the Pathways mentoring and peer advising program to all first-year students and all first years and sophomores next year. Pathways is a one-credit class that is now required each semester of our students’ first two years at Furman. It is designed to help them transition to college life and give them a sense of belonging while also helping them reflect on their values, define their interests and prepare for academic and professional success. In short, Pathways creates a foundation in our students’ first two years for them to fully realize the benefits of The Furman Advantage. This robust program would not be possible without the generosity of donors and the multitude of opportunities for engaged learning and career advancement that Furman’s alumni community provides. Read more about Pathways.

Before the faculty voted this past spring to extend Pathways to all students, we surveyed our students and found that those who took part in the pilot program reported being more satisfied with their advising experience than students who did not. The early data also suggest that Pathways benefits students from low-income families, first-generation college students, and students of color by increasing retention – staying enrolled through graduation – and participation in engaged learning experiences, such as internships, research and study away. The data also show these students had earlier and more frequent appointments with career counseling.

The focused support for student thriving and belonging that defines Pathways is closely related to this magazine’s cover story about a $10 million gift from David Trone ’77 and his wife, June. With $8.5 million of the gift, we will make significant changes in how mental fitness and mental health care are integrated into student experiences. With $1.5 million, the Trones established the Hillel Endowment Fund to support the Jewish Student Association, which provides great services for our Jewish students and programming that enriches everyone. Read more about this generous gift and its impact.

From integrated mental health services to support for first-generation students to resources for the Jewish
Student Association to Pathways’ carefully scaffolded approach to the first two years, we are sending a
message to students: You are not alone. Your community is all around you.

On the national stage, Furman is again being recognized for the excellence of our undergraduate experience. This fall, Furman’s national ranking improved, placing us at No. 45 in the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings. And for the sixth year in a row, Furman was named a “Most Innovative School” by our peers, ranking No. 4 in the category this year. We are pleased to see this recognition, but we know it is only one reflection of the immense value of a Furman degree.

Every day, Furman faculty and staff demonstrate their commitment to helping all of our students find and follow their pathway. But we can’t stand still. We know this generation of students has needs that are different from previous generations – because the world and its challenges continue to change. The Trone gift, Pathways and innovation are all a part of creating the education our students need to not only thrive but graduate ready to live lives of purpose and community impact.

Elizabeth Davis' signature

By Melanie Armstrong ’94, Pathways Mentoring Coordinator

The Riley Institute at Furman was founded by former two-term South Carolina Governor and U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley.

Jocelyn Boulware Bruce ’17 and Nick Bruce ’18