Bearkat Kickoff Provides Extended Welcome To New Students
Feb. 8, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd
Welcome Week, Sam Houston State University’s official first week for new students, is evolving through the creation of Bearkat Kickoff. The new initiative brings first-year students to campus a week early to participate in a variety of programs to support their transition to college and overall success. Throughout the week, the goal is to help students connect to one another, begin to build relationships and acclimate to college life.
“Unlike the historical Welcome Week, Bearkat Kickoff will occur prior to the start of the semester and a significant portion will consist of activities designed to prepare students for academic success, specifically,” Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Anne Gaillard said. “For example, plans currently include sessions on career readiness, academic integrity, how to apply for and maintain eligibility for financial aid, et cetera. Bearkat Kickoff will also include activities to promote mental health wellness, as well as campus connection.”
With the implementation of Bearkat Kickoff comes some minor changes, including an earlier move-in date for first-time freshmen living in residence halls and the initiation of Welcome Week events. Gaillard said the idea behind the creation of the program is to engage first-time students with the campus tools and resources available to them before the semester begins.
“Our perspective is that students don’t retain a lot of important information that has historically been provided at orientation, which occurs 1-2 months prior to arrival on campus, and once classes have started, it’s often too late for students to have to learn to navigate campus,” Gaillard said.
Students can now move into the residence halls from Aug. 11-13 and participate in the program, allowing them to settle into their new homes and explore the campus before classes begin.
“Data shows students who are successful in their first year are much more likely to be retained and graduate. The first year is especially critical, and a more robust onboarding program is needed to ensure our students’ success. This is especially true given that more than 50 percent of our students are first-generation students who may not have access to this important information any other way. Bearkat Kickoff will help students ‘hit the ground running’ once classes begin, so they are more likely to be successful in their first year,” Gaillard said.
A team of university leaders collaborated on program development and received grant funding from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
“We feel so fortunate to have been selected as a recipient for the Coordinating Board’s implementation grant,” Drew Miller, interim vice president for student affairs, said. “It’s an indication that they see the potential in Bearkat Kickoff and a sign that we’re on the right track towards developing an innovative program to support our students. Like any new initiative, we want to make sure that the program does what we intend it to do before we start investing permanent resources into it, so grant funding like this is an excellent way to help us get through the pilot phase while lessening the economic impact to the university.”
University officials and staff are already looking forward to welcoming this year’s freshmen during Bearkat Kickoff and are excited to instill the values and traditions of our campus community, but more importantly, guide them to success at SHSU.
Bearkat Kickoff was created with the university’s strategic priorities of promoting student success and access and embodying a culture of excellence in mind. On top of this, it will be reflective of programs from universities around the nation.
“In addition to academics, Bearkat Kickoff will help students develop a plan for wellness during their first year, with a particular emphasis on mental health and interpersonal connections,” Miller said. “We know that students who are engaged and have a solid foundation of coping skills tend to be more academically successful and complete their degrees at a higher rate than those students who feel disengaged. By giving students the opportunity to develop these skills before their first semester starts, they’ll be primed to have a successful first day, first week, and hopefully, first semester.”
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