Colleges' goal: No freshman will be disoriented
Hillary Cox, a senior at Duquesne University, lugs an incoming freshman's possessions into St. Ann Hall on Tuesday.
Housing carts are used to move belongings up a ramp near William Pitt Union at the University of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the first of move-in days for the fall semester.
Victoria Lang strums her brother's guitar as she helps during move-in day Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh. Kevin Lang, right, a sophomore majoring in finance, was getting help also from father, Zig. The Lang family is from Collegeville, Pa.
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Jennifer Breslin's introduction to college was quick and simple. Her parents brought her to her dorm room, gave her a kiss and said goodbye.
"That was it," she said.
On Tuesday morning, it was her turn to be the parent dropping off the college student. And as she and her husband Joe arrived at Duquesne University with their 18-year-old daughter, Kathryn, it was a much different scene than her parents had encountered.
Music blared from speakers. Student and alumni volunteers offered snacks. And a few minutes after the Breslins of West Chester, Pa. pulled into their parking spot, four female students in green T-shirts descended on their pickup truck.
Working quickly, they unloaded Kathryn Breslin's belongings into two carts to wheel to her dorm room, leaving nothing for Kathryn -- or Jennifer, Joe and their 14-year-old son Seamus -- to carry.
"It was not like this," Jennifer Breslin said about her own introduction to college life. " I love this."
For Kathryn Breslin, as well as the more than 1,500 freshmen who arrived at Duquesne University Tuesday, orientation -- five full days' worth of activity including a dance, campus tours and a pep rally -- was just getting started.
The old method of orientation -- where the college hands the student a key to her dorm room as the parents drive away -- has been replaced with a highly choreographed welcome to campus life. As schools help new students adjust to life away from home for the first time, they pass on information ranging from classroom locations to school traditions, while providing ample opportunity to meet classmates.
The majority of colleges in the United States hold welcome sessions that can range from a few days to a whole week, said Joyce Holl, executive director of the National Orientation Directors Association in Minneapolis.
"We see it as a great way to retain those students, to make them feel comfortable in coming to that school," she said.
At Point Park University, Sarah George, director of commuter affairs, coordinates the school's freshman orientation, a program called The Pioneer Experience.
Many students arriving at college are anxious about making the transition from living with their families to the independence of college, Ms. George said.
"It's really quite an adjustment for them," she said.
The Point Park orientation program -- with two-day sessions in June, July and August -- introduces students to the residence halls, academics, financial services, and also gives them a chance to meet other students.
"At this point, we are still selling that this is the right university and that Point Park has everything you are looking for," Ms. George said.
During Carnegie Mellon University's orientation week, the message for students is that the school has a "you-shaped hole" every student can fill, said Helen Wang, associate director for student life.
"Those types of messages, they really tell the student that no matter where they are from or what story they bring in, that there's a place for them here," she said.
Freshman orientation at CMU began Sunday as more than 1,400 students and their parents moved in, and continues for a week.
"Philosophically, we feel that we sort of owe it to students to have this comprehensive program that is going to get them ready for classes next Monday," said Anne Witchner, assistant dean of student affairs.
Activities over the week include icebreaker activities, sampling food from Pittsburgh restaurants, listening to older students and alumni talk about their experience during and after college, talking about living with a roommate and learning about their academic program.
College orientation is not just for the students, however.
At Point Park's orientation, parents attend sessions providing information such as safety, health services and food services. They also attend a meeting about "letting go," meaning letting their children enter the next phase of their lives, said Keith Paylo, dean of students at Point Park.
Orientation at Point Park is much different from what Mr. Paylo, who is 46, experienced as a freshman college student. He jokes that his parents slowed down the car just enough to let him out at his college.
But in anecdotal and official assessments, no one has asked Point Park to scale back their orientation, he said. Instead, parents often tell him and other staff members that the orientation has made them feel more comfortable about their children starting college.
Still, orientation is mostly for the students.
Tonight, after her parents have left, Kathryn Breslin can attend the freshman orientation graffiti dance and collect her new classmates' signatures on a white T-shirt.
"It's meeting people without the awkwardness," is how Brian Bost, a junior who is one of the orientation directors, describes it.
It's all part of the university's plan to give new students a good experience as they ease into college life, said senior Becca Kopcie, another orientation director. Starting with move-in, students will see that there are people there to help them.
"You can't just be dropped off," she said. "You really need to have that social network."
First Published August 22, 2012 3:56 pm