Weekend aids in positive transition to U

by Stacy Jo

Amanda Stickler worked her way up the leadership ladder.
As a freshman, Stickler participated in New Student Weekend to ease the intimidation she felt about attending the University.
As a senior, Stickler is now a New Student Weekend co-chairwoman, hiring student counselors and organizing activities for this year’s nearly 900 New Student Weekend participants.
“New Student Weekend is becoming a tradition,” she said. “It’s highly regarded now.”
Stickler is one of many graduates of New Student Weekend who have returned to the program as counselors to give back to others the positive experience they say they received during their own participation.
The program employs nearly 140 student volunteers, some of whom have prior experience with the program. The counselors go through training sessions and spend a weekend directing trust-building and leadership exercises in an attempt to bridge the gap between high school and college for the University’s new recruits.
This year, 900 of the University’s 5,100 freshmen participated in the program which began in the 1950s, died out in the 1960s and resumed again in the 1970s.
Nearly 150 students took part in this year’s first New Student Weekend, Sept. 11-13. However, the counselors’ true challenge came Thursday when the remaining 750 students convened for the second of the program’s two annual weekends.
The counselors and students departed Friday for three retreat sites off campus. The students were divided into groups of 10 to 15 and two counselors were assigned to each group.
The student-run weekend included counselor and student skits, trust-building activities, a dance and a bonfire.
Kerry Ruane, a New Student Weekend counselor, said she and her co-workers try to divide the students into small groups immediately to discourage the anonymity of large groups and make it easier for students to meet one another.
“The more outgoing we are, the more outgoing they will be to meet each other,” Ruane said.
While trying to untangle herself from a string knot connecting her to another student during a trust-building activity, New Student Weekend attendee Heather Hokanson said though she considers herself a city girl, traveling to a campsite was an interesting experience for her.
“It’s all right to get out with Mother Nature every once in a while and bond,” Hokanson said.
One of the program’s expansions this year was the addition of a residential life option, in which students could request to take part in a camp focusing specifically on how to deal with a roommate and what to expect from residence hall living.
Tex Ostvig, assistant director for New Student Programs, attributes the program’s growing popularity to word of mouth, as parents and students share their memorable program experiences with their children and younger siblings.
Ostvig said the office received 300 applications for student counselor positions this past year; only 138 positions were available.
“There’s such a spirit about it. There’s an energy,” Ostvig said. “You can’t understand it unless you’ve been through it yourself.”
In addition to New Student Weekend, University staff members made further efforts to create a more welcoming campus atmosphere for new students this year.
All incoming freshmen were mailed Internet Welcome Kits, a set of CD-ROMs designed to enhance the New Student Orientation Program. Through the wonders of technology, students and their parents are able to take a virtual tour of the University without ever setting foot on campus.
The CD-ROMs cover three areas of campus life: online information, which shows students how to initialize their Internet accounts and provides the software to do so; academic life, which includes details such as where to buy books and where to register; and non-academic life, including how to become involved in student organizations and sports and recreation information.
Nearly 3,500 incoming students have already initialized their Internet accounts through the CD-ROM, which was funded by the Office of Information Technology.
Shih-Pau Yen, director of Academic and Distributed Computing Services, said the CD-ROMs provide a comfort and a service to both students and their parents.
“We let you know we are ready to welcome you,” Yen said.
Another enhancement to welcome new students is Convocation: First Class, to be held Wednesday. This event, comparable to a high school assembly, is the first of its kind at the University in 29 years. It will include a welcome speech by University President Mark Yudof, a lesson in how to sing the Minnesota Rouser and a faculty procession down Northrop Mall.
“It gives people an opportunity to get out of their offices to come out and welcome the students,” said Jane Canney, associate vice president for Student Development and Athletics and one of the event coordinators.
With technological assistance from the Office of Information Technology, Yudof will record a mass voice-mail message that will be sent to all first-year students in the residence halls Tuesday, inviting them to the convocation.
Event organizers expect between 2,000 and 3,000 attendees.