New students need counselors

by Douglas Rojas

Kiaora Bohlool came all the way from Hawaii to Minnesota in the fall of 1994 to live in a completely different environment from the one she knew. Like most of the first-year students facing a large campus for the first time, she didn’t know anyone.
After her first year, Bohlool, now a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and theater, decided to be a New Student Weekend counselor. She said the position gave her the opportunity to help first-year students make a comfortable transition into the University — help she received when she was a new student participating in the New Student Weekend campus retreat.
“All these people (first-year students) are intimidated by the size of the University,” said Bohlool. “I was in their position.” As a counselor, she said “you take the time to ask somebody how are you doing?’ and listen to their fears and thoughts.”
The New Student Weekend programs are currently looking for next year’s counselors. The office is accepting applications through Friday.
The New Student Weekend counselors are in charge of planning three-day, off-campus retreats where first-year students participate in group activities, which aim to ease their transition to University life. Another goal is to enhance students’ sense of community at the University. Through series of speakers, workshops and other group activities, students learn about resources available at the University while meeting other students and, planners hope, having fun.
Bohlool said the program allows students to start feeling comfortable, excited and proud about the University, as she did when she started.
Gina Gough, a junior in the College of Education, said working as a counselor is one of the best experiences she has had at the University so far. For her, the weekend was a boundary-breaking activity because she got to meet people and get to know them on a more personal level. She said she and other students were able to share their anxieties and concerns about starting college life.
“It was so awesome that it’s so hard to put in words,” Gough said.
Counselors learn more about personal relationships and diversity issues along with the new students, who come from both the Twin Cities and smaller towns. Kyle Christensen, a program coordinator and junior in the Carlson School of Management, said that a counselor has “to keep an open mind and to learn about people from all over the world, and understand where they are coming from.”
A counselor must have a positive attitude in social settings and be willing to have a good time doing it.
The program expects to get about 135 students to work as counselors in two September camps right before fall quarter begins.
Counselors go through a training period starting the first week of spring quarter. Every Wednesday through the end of the school year, they attend workshops that focus on defining and understanding the importance of leadership and the impact that counselors have on new students facing college life.
Issues of diversity are also emphasized in the training sessions. Directors train counselors to be sensitive to individuals coming from different backgrounds and to overcome whatever differences exist between people.
Tex Ostvig, assistant director for the program, said he helps counselors realize that diversity is not only about race but about recognizing human differences and breaking walls that separate people from each other.
Ostvig said the program trains counselors to get involved in the diversity discussions with students to “try and step on their shoes.” Counselors and students develop definitions together for diversity during the retreat.
By doing this, counselors try to present a “positive light to the new students coming to the University,” Ostvig said.
Besides planning the three-day weekend and being in charge of approximately 10 students during the weekend camps, counselors also have to choose a theme for the retreat and design sweat shirts for the camp.
Some of the themes chosen for past weekend camps were “U got the flava,” “U give me fever” and “U you can dance if U want to.”
Bohlool remembered how her pants became the theme of her group during a 1995 retreat. After getting the idea from a poem, students in her group started to write messages on a pair of old pants she wore during the retreat. “The Fabulous Dancing Pants” became the motto that marked Bohlool’s group.
Any student who has registered for at least one quarter at the University and is currently enrolled at the school can apply to be a counselor. Current counselors say that the experience is a great way to meet people at the University and experience different cultures.
“It gave you a good perspective by knowing people from different places,” said Bohlool.