Each year as the fall academic term begins, about 800 incoming University students pay $90 to board buses headed for unknown locations.
When the buses stop, the students disembark and find themselves on a campground several miles outside the Twin Cities.
For many students, this is the first taste of life at the University. And each year, 170 student coordinators work extensively to ensure that it’s a positive one.
For more than 50 years, the University’s New Student Weekend program organizers have assisted incoming students in making a smooth transition from high school to college.
Though many universities have similar programs designed to assimilate incoming students into the collegiate hierarchy, the University’s is one of a handful almost entirely student-run and executed in an off-campus environment.
And some organizers say those characteristics allow them to construct a uniquely effective program.
“With students running (the program), we constantly have a fresh perspective,” said Tex Ostvig, assistant director of the New Student Programs office and the only professional involved in the program. “There’s a student spirit that we couldn’t capture if we had a professional staff doing this all the time.”
The weekend excursion is designed to ease freshmen into college life by giving them the opportunity to connect with other students on a personal level and learn about University life.
Students who attend the camps participate in a variety of endeavors, including “ice-breaking” sessions, team-building activities, informational forums and guest lectures.
Ostvig said the organizers focus on issues of campus involvement, academic success, multiculturalism and diversity, personal success and social responsibility.
For many students, the weekend is an opportunity to quell concerns about how they will fit in at the University. Sophomore Eric Atkins says his experience enabled him to make friends and acquaint himself with student life at the University before the first day of class.
“I loved the way it settled you down about coming to the University,” he said. “Everyone was in the same situation: looking to make friends and get used to college life.”
Atkins enjoyed his New Student Weekend experience so much that he served as a counselor at this year’s retreat. He is one of many student participants who return as program facilitators. Ostvig and LeeAnn Melin, director of the New Student Programs office, also participated as new University students their freshmen years.
New Student Weekend is one of two programs orchestrated by the office in which participation is voluntary.
Though about 5,000 freshmen enter the University each year, less than one-fifth of those attend the New Student Weekend sessions. Ostvig hopes those figures will increase but notes that students from the Twin Cities metropolitan area are traditionally less likely to attend because they are already familiar with the campus.
Though many students sign up for the program to socialize, Ostvig says it also helps students perform well academically.
“It’s not just a weekend party,” he said. “We also want to have structure and concrete information for them to take back so they will succeed.”
Travis Reed covers the environment and transportation and can be reached at [email protected]