Program Helps Freshmen Get Oriented With Campus, Resources
|As a freshman, William Folmar (center) was so inspired by his orientation leader that he decided to become an orientation leader, himself, this summer. Joining him on the orientation team are Chris Bertaut (left) and Jasmine Moultrie. —Photos by Brian Blalock|
William Folmar had plenty of worries on his mind when it came to college. First, he's an only child, so he didn't have any older siblings to model freshman finesse. Add to that the fact Folmar is dyslexic, and his feet were more than cold, even in the June heat of Texas.
But his experience last summer at New Student Orientation eased his concerns tremendously.
"I was so happy to discover the Reading and Writing Centers," said Folmar, who will begin his sophomore year in management information systems this fall. "I was surprised they offered those services and that they actually wanted to help. I was really taken aback…and relieved."
A few more conversations with some of the folks who've "been there, done that" really helped too, Folmar said. He learned about and joined a campus Christian ministry, and by visiting Career Services, found a job working on campus at the Lowman Student Center.
"I was nervous at first, but it only took that one day to learn I'm not alone out here," Folmar said.
That feeling is one the NSO program hopes the estimated 2,200 freshmen attending summer orientation will experience during one of this year’s eight sessions running June through the beginning of August.
Coming Full Circle...
On becoming an orientation leader this summer:
Each two-day session includes a one-night stay for freshmen at Lone Star Hall, SHSU's newest residence hall, where students truly have the opportunity to eat and sleep like a real Bearkat, according to Jesse Bernal, NSO director.
Parents are encouraged to attend events that run simultaneously with student events—and approximately 60 percent of students do indeed bring a parent or guardian—but they must find their own overnight accommodations.
A new component to the long-standing SHSU tradition is that younger siblings will be allowed to participate.
Bernal said this will help entertain the younger ones so that mom or dad can focus on the lessons at hand. These potential Bearkats-in-the-making will get a taste of higher education and enjoy several campus fieldtrips to the planetarium, museum and library.
New Student Orientation is mandatory for freshmen, Bernal said, because there are a lot of questions when it comes to establishing a new life on a 316-acre campus that's home to more than 18,500 students and 32 residence halls and apartments.
"We want them to be excited about being Bearkats in the fall," Bernal said. "We really strive to make sure it's a seamless transition."
Bernal said orientation will soothe some of the most nagging concerns in a freshman's mind: Food, friends, fun, sleep and life away from the 'rents.
Folmar said only a couple of his peers from his hometown of Palestine had planned to attend SHSU, and those had planned on transferring to SHSU in the spring, so the people he met during orientation were not only his classmates but many also became his friends.
“You have so many chances at orientation just to meet people, through hanging out at the Kat Klub at night or in the small groups they put you in for teambuilding and the skits,” he said. “I met a lot of cool people at orientation. I keep in touch with a few of them on Facebook, and I hang out with a few of them. I got into Chi Alpha (Christian ministry) because of orientation, and actually I started hanging out with my orientation leader there.”
If it sounds a lot like lessons in lifestyle, not to worry; orientation is also there for the academically-pressing parts, like: how does college differ from high school, where can I get extra help if I need it in math, reading, writing, etc., how challenging are the classes, where do I go for any kind of help for any type of problem…the list, truly, goes on.
Parents have their own worries, so orientation is there for them too. For the most part, parents are separated from their students as they learn about university resources; meet faculty members and administrators; chat with current students; ask questions and share concerns with orientation staff and other parents; and learn more about student legal services, financial aid, alert notification, library services, the counseling center, public safety office and the SHSU alumni association. Then, and perhaps this one may be the hardest for some—how to let their freshman fly free, and what kind of care packages to send.
On the second day of orientation, freshmen can choose from seven breakout sessions for more information on additional opportunities, such as Bearkat Camp, which is four days and three nights of Bearkat spirit, pride and traditions that have been cherished by students since 1879. The student-led, interactive camp allows freshmen to forge friendships for life—or at least never forget the tribal competitions, social activities, games of sand volleyball, battling the ropes course or riding a giant water catapult lovingly known as the "blob." After a hot (camp takes place in August, by the way) but fun-filled day, campers retire to air-conditioned cabins with modern conveniences—and toast each other as the "Class of 2017."
For Folmar, Bearkat Camp was the highlight of his summer experience at SHSU. When asked what his favorite part of the camp was, his smile revealed more than his words: “A lot; probably going outside on the blob and on the lake,” he said, with his secretive smile in tact.
“Bearkat Camp was really fun; that’s where I made a lot of my friends,” he added. “I would definitely encourage new students to attend Bearkat Camp.”
If camp doesn't quite float the boat, there are other less-woodsy options up for discussion at orientation, including Greek life, “First Generation,” library services, money management, financial aid and student employment.
“First Generation” is for students who are the first in their families to attend a postsecondary institution. As for Greek life, we're talking about the sisterhood and brotherhood. This is a community of sororities and fraternities dedicated to academic excellence, leadership and service. In fact, 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives are members of Greek organizations, and 25 United States presidents have belonged to a Greek-letter organization.
SHSU is also home to more than 225 registered student organizations, and it isn't hard to create another one. Not only is SHSU's student population in the tens of thousands, it's a diverse student body representing 60 countries. Freshmen don't have to look far to find like-minded students with similar interests or cultures.
"As a freshman, just go out and do everything you can," said Vontavia Smith, who will begin her sophomore year this fall in human resource management. "Make a lot of friends and study really hard."
Smith recommends getting a job on campus, as she did, at the Visitor Center, answering phones and giving campus tours.
Jumping in with both feet, as she did, is a technique Smith recommends to the newbies.
"It's your first year of college," Smith said. "It won't ever happen again. Get out there and make yourself known. Not only will you never be forgotten, you will remember it as one of the best years of your life."
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