Students, parents praise freshman orientation

by Anne Preller

After two months at the University, freshman Molly Wadsworth is already tired of the dining service’s selections.

“I feel like it’s getting worse,” Wadsworth said. “I’m not bothered by it, I use my meal plan. I eat there a lot, but it’s not the best food I’ve ever had.”

Despite culinary qualms, Wadsworth is among 91 percent of freshmen who feel they have been well oriented to the way of life at the University.

In early October, the Orientation and First-Year Programs Office released survey results on the University’s updated student and parent orientation programs.

Out of 3,318 new-student responses, 83 percent said they were favorably impressed with their orientation experience. The survey was issued to students after their first college registration.

“Most of the feedback we get from students is that it was a great experience, that it helped them feel more comfortable at the ‘U,'” said LeeAnn Melin, director of the Orientation and First-Year Programs Office.

This summer 5,469 students attended freshman orientation, during which students go through two days of informative meetings.

Melin said the program makes students feel welcome by placing them in base groups “so that they can start to make connections with other people and get some of that individual attention.”

While students are being acquainted with their new school, parents get the same introductory welcome and facts.

“(Parents) are very involved,” Melin said. “It’s their first time letting someone go to college so they want to learn as much as they can about how the University works and what their role is as a parent.”

At orientation, parents and students start out together and then separate until late afternoon for one last session before parents leave students for their first overnight at the University.

“That’s very intentional because we want to make sure that students can start to establish their own space and start the transition on their own,” Melin said.

At the beginning of the session, Molly’s mother Mary Ann wasn’t as concerned with her daughter’s academics as she was with her daughter’s safety.

“A lot of my concern was more of a safety concern,” Mary Ann said, “Just the location of (the University) being downtown.”

Mary Ann said she was much more comfortable sending her daughter to the University after attending parent orientation.

“I thought it was really a good eye-opener,” Mary Ann said, “having lived in the Twin Cities for 30 years, you always know that the ‘U’ is there, but unless you have a reason to be there, you really don’t know anything about it.”

As a parent, Mary Ann said she appreciates the University’s open communication and is a member of the University parent e-mail list.

“It clears things up, and it doesn’t let things get out of hand, and then it opens up a lot of doors to me as a parent to get involved if I choose to,” she said.

Mary Ann worked at the Chilifest during Homecoming in her first act of involvement with the University community. It was the first time she had ever spent a full day on campus.

She said her daughter’s adjustment to college has gone smoothly.

“A lot of it has to do with Molly’s feelings,” Mary Ann said. “She seems to really have adapted well, and that’s important.”

Molly Wadsworth said she walked away from orientation with “a better idea of how things went, a better idea of what’s there to get involved with, and what you have to do in such a big school.”

Already adjusted, Wadsworth has joined a sorority and settled into a routine. She said she usually returns home to Edina on Sundays for an evening church group.

“I go out on maybe Thursday night, usually Friday and Saturday nights, either with friends from the dorm or girls from the sorority,” Wadsworth said. “Saturday is just getting stuff done and sleeping.”

Wadsworth said her initial concern about living away from home hasn’t been an issue for her, but self-discipline is more difficult.

She said she sometimes has trouble waking up and getting to class on time – chores her structured high school life once afforded.

But Molly’s mom said she has a pretty good idea why her daughter’s transition to college has gone so well.

“She knows she’s got parents who love her,” Mary Ann said. “Knowing that we’re all around and (has) easy access if she needs one of us, I think that’s been a key part of this smooth adjustment period.”