Manassas Journal Messenger | Orientation activities ease the transition

How can a high school graduate be turned into a savvy collegian in a few days? Orientation is the answer and almost every college or university has developed its special formula.

Sessions vary from classes to community involvement to off-campus trips. A look at the orientation programs of several schools shows a diversity of activities.

At Virginia Military Institute, the 442 freshmen cadets had two opportunities to get acquainted with the school.

About half the incoming cadets usually attend an optional three-and-a-half-week “Summer Transition Program.” Students can take one academic class (to ease first semester pressure), get uniforms, learn basic military courtesies and do physical conditioning.

When the cadets matriculate, they enter a 10-day period known as Cadre Week. Select upper classmen provide some very intensive training to prepare them for the arrival of the rest of the Corps. When the classes start, the Rat line officially begins.

During orientation, Roanoke College divides its 615 freshmen and transfers into groups. Each has a faculty mentor and a couple of Maroon Corps upperclassmen. The athletic teams are the Maroons. Orientation sessions get under way four days before classes.

All entering freshmen are required to read the same book during the summer before they enter. “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, the story of the author’s growing up in Tehran, was this summer’s selection. During orientation each group held four sessions to discuss the book.

Incoming freshmen also built R- House (R as in Roanoke) in five days. A Habitat for Humanity home, it was started in two halves on a truck bed and then moved to its off-campus site where the students are finishing the interior.

Christopher Newport University has a two-day session that all the incoming 1,187 freshmen are required to attend in June, as well as Welcome Week classes in August before the fall session. Nationally-known authorities on such topics as making good choices and diversity are featured.

The “Academic Festival” offers a two-hour interactive fair that allows students to learn about academic areas that might interest them for a major. The freshmen went on to visit the department of their choice for a “major rush” and lunch with faculty. Later that afternoon they met in small groups and discussed honor code case studies and a shared reading from the summer.

George Washington University’s orientation program is appropriately named “Colonial Inauguration.” Each summer, approximately 2,400 freshmen take part. Special orientation sessions also are held for transfer and international students.

Students learn about the university, and the program includes separate sessions for parents. Information on the city of Washington and its suburbs is also an integral part of the program.

Ferrum College’s “Gateway Weekend” for the incoming freshman includes four waves of Challenges: Career, Campus, Service and Community. Information on dorm life, social issues and civility are part of the campus program.

To acquaint the incoming 490 freshmen with their locale, a charter bus takes them around Ferrum and nearby Rocky Mount to see “hotspots” services and amenities that they will use to “make a home away from home.” This tour also included seeing a movie at a local theater.

The weekend’s night life features karaoke, music, picnics and special meals. A Ceremony of Initiation and Affirmation is the final activity.

The University of Virginia had a series of two-day orientation programs that began June 29 and continued to Aug. 1 for the 3,648 incoming freshmen. In addition there will be a midterm session for transfers.

Summer sessions are focused on giving freshmen a sense of what “life will be like in their first year, socially and academically” as well as getting them registered for classes. Upperclassmen serve as orientation leaders and the entire university community is involved in the program.

All first-year students also take part in a community service event that includes opportunity to partner with local service groups.

Parents also can get acquainted with what university life is like, and enjoy a special treat an evening tour of Monticello.

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