UC Links Statewide Office on the Virtual Road - Whittier Fifth Dimension Retreat

September 12, 2020

On September 12th, I (Karla) observed part of the Whittier BCM 2020 Retreat between 1:30 - 2:30 pm. This event was held virtually for all participating undergraduate and graduate students from 9am - 4:00 pm and was hosted by Katherine Lazo, the Director for the B.C. McCabe Community Education Programs, which include the Fifth Dimension. The overall focus of the second half of the retreat was community building and preparation for the start of the Fifth Dimension programs for the 2020-21 school year. The portion of the retreat I observed was centered on changes and updates to the Virtual Fifth Dimension program. The goals and essence of the Fifth Dimension team will continue to be empowerment of youth, situated learning, cultural relevance, promoting intergenerational collaboration and social learning through a sense of community. This retreat was a way to lay the foundation for undergraduate and graduate students to prepare themselves for engaging with participants through an online format.

Many of the tools that the Whittier Fifth Dimension team has developed are in their shared Google Drive folder. Please take a look - it contains everything from ice breaker ideas to a sample online waiver form.

Whittier Fifth Dimension Virtual 2020 Retreat

Number of undergraduate and graduate students: 8


  • 9:00am-12pm team building activities

  • 1:30-2:30 Virtual Fifth Dimension Changes and Updates (Program and Being Virtual vs In Person)

  • 2:30-3:30 Best Practices (Online tools & Community Building)

General Observations

Since Whittier College's annual undergraduate retreat was being held online in preparation for the 2020-21 school year, Fifth Dimension Director Katherine Lazo, shared an invitation on the UC Links listserv for anyone to attend the afternoon portion.

I was able to attend and observe the retreat between 1:30-2:30pm. I joined the retreat at a transition point for the Whittier team as they were coming back from their lunch break. I introduced myself and thanked all of the Zoom attendants for the opportunity to learn alongside them. There were six undergraduate and two graduate students plus Katherine when I joined. In the hour that I was part of the Zoom call two more participants joined as observers, Adrienne Herd (UC Berkeley) and Mara Mahmood (UC Links Statewide Office). 

Focused Observations

Katherine communicated clearly and effectively with participating undergraduates and laid the foundation for engagement with their communities virtually. Katherine pointed out that the Whittier team already practices the skills that a person needs to be competent online. She also pointed out that children’s engagement in online activities takes place in a broader context of domestic, familial, social, cultural, political and economic factors. 

Kathy provided an overview of the three breakout rooms that the Whittier Wizard’s Assistants (undergraduate and graduate students) will use to engage the youth via Zoom: Chill Vibez, Spill the Tea and the Interactive Room. Each room is a different virtual world with separate expectations. In each room, Wizard’s Assistants (WAs) will still focus on creating and building a safe and trusting environment, maintaining balance and encouraging the students to engage in activities, and promoting individual/collective learning.

One of the things that most caught my focus was the way Katherine emphasized the importance of attention. She shared research on key facts that are relevant to the WA’s roles as teachers and designers of online learning experiences. She shared with them the findings of the summer team, and one of the first key facts is that attention is limited. Secondly, looking and seeing are two different things. Third, attention shifts both voluntarily and involuntarily. Finally, that there is little intuitive awareness of when our limitations are exceeded. 

Katherine shared suggestions for best practices, especially for the changing learning environment. The first was, try not to assume that a student knows how to use their technology. This is because having access to technology does not equal knowledge of the inner workings and functions. The second suggestion was to take into consideration the age of the youth that are participating. She guided the undergraduates to always help students with basic tasks and to teach computer skills alongside subject material. Finally, Katherine reminded the WAs to also keep in mind that some students are already technically fluent. 


Participating in this retreat made me feel that Katherine Lazo was speaking directly to me. Many of the things that she discussed with the students applied to me, especially in my current role of student at UC Berkeley. I wish that some of my professors would think of ways to promote, and nurture creativity. My favorite part of this retreat was the way that Katherine engaged, both, undergraduate and graduate students by having them read through her slide show presentation aloud. Each student had the opportunity to use their voice to engage in what would otherwise have been one talking head for two hours through Zoom without real engagement. It is difficult to sit through online presentations, but Katherine made me want to be part of the Whittier Fifth Dimension program. I would say that the Whittier team is successfully on their way to developing and implementing a great online program this Fall.