New students SOAR through campus

Marketing and Communications

By Amy West

The month of May marked the end of a successful journey for thousands of BGSU students as they walked across the stage and accepted their diplomas. May also marked the beginning of a journey for the newest class at BGSU who arrived from across the country for Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR).

Though SOAR began in May, it continues throughout the summer - carloads of incoming students and their families, groggy from waking early, in unfamiliar territory, excited yet anxious about beginning the college orientation and registration process.

"SOAR is the introduction for everything you need to know to start and prepare for the next chapter of your academic future"SOAR is a daylong event serving as a comprehensive introduction to BGSU. While the event is orchestrated by New Student Orientation & First Year Programs, it is the culmination of intense planning and hard work throughout the University.

"Going off to college is a huge step, and we try to alleviate the possible stresses of this transition by providing support, information and the tools necessary for academic success." said Jessica Huddleston, assistant director of New Student Orientation & First Year Programs.

Kristen Grom, an incoming freshman and creative writing major from Pennsylvania, summed it up: "SOAR is the introduction for everything you need to know to start and prepare for the next chapter of your academic future."

Grom was impressed by the genuine excitement she experienced throughout campus during a high school visit and chose BGSU to further her education. During her SOAR experience, she once again sensed that genuine warmth from staff and students and returned home for the remainder of summer feeling more relaxed, more knowledgeable and even more eager to return this fall.

Davis Gerber, an education major from Bowling Green, commented, "I'm coming to BGSU to become a high school math teacher. I love the atmosphere here at the University - not too big and not too small. It's a bonus that Bowling Green has one of the best teaching programs in the nation."

Having grown up in the community of Bowling Green, Gerber is already somewhat familiar with campus. Even so, SOAR taught him about programs such as the Learning Commons.

"I met some new people and have my schedule, which leaves me feeling even more relaxed," he said. "And coming with your family adds familiarity to something that is new."

Gerber said he liked the fact that students were divided into groups by college, and he was able to meet some of his peers. He recalled that students were comparing schedules and many realized they have several classes together. This ultimately alleviates some anxiety for students. That scheduling is no accident. This year, for the first time, BGSU is using linked courses to help new students get to know each other. Incoming freshman may have up to three classes together as a group, so they will have the opportunity to really interact with their classmates on a daily basis.

"Seeing a familiar face that first day of class will be a relief," he said, laughing.

Students and their families on campus for orientation often feel vulnerable, unsure of what will be expected of them and nervous about their upcoming separation from one another. SOAR is designed just as much for family members as it is for students.

"It is wonderful to get an up close and personal view of where my child will be spending the next years," said Ken Fasone, whose son, Nicholas, will be attending this fall. "When I am missing him this fall, I will be able to picture him on campus after having had the opportunity to visit so many venues during SOAR. The concept is great. The event was well-organized and had a very personal feel to it," he added.

Orientation Leaders play an important role in making the experience a positive one. The 20-plus students who serve leaders provide a warm welcome backed up by solid training and in-depth knowledge of the campus. Prospective Orientation Leaders go through a highly selective process that includes group and individual interviews, in addition to recommendations.

"They must be academically proficient, approachable, dependable, energetic and responsible," Huddleston said. For incoming students, they are the face of the University.

"We are hoping that we can help make the transition easier and support the incoming students by answering questions, giving them helpful tips, and encouraging all future Falcon's to really jump into their first year experience. They are the constant contact for incoming students throughout the day across campus. They are the people incoming students and their families want to hear from. We wouldn't be able to provide such a high-quality program without them," Huddleston said. Walking out to the lawn after lunch for group activities with some new friends, Jessica Schwiefert joked, "The leaders are kind of eccentric … I like it!" She also added that they are extremely helpful, kind and absolutely approachable.

The leaders are from diverse backgrounds, both academically and personally, but most are already highly involved with the University, either as resident advisers, tour guides or in student organizations. The two-credit leadership class orientation leaders must take teaches them to look first at themselves and build upon their strengths. In addition to learning about the University and its resources, they connect as a team and discover one another's areas of special expertise.

"SOAR might be the first interaction a student has with BGSU, and we want to make that interaction as positive as possible. Many students come to college not having a clue what to expect. We are hoping that we can help make the transition easier and support the incoming students by answering questions, giving them helpful tips, and encouraging all future Falcon's to really jump into their first year experience," said Holly Hemminger, an orientation leader and a senior from Sandusky majoring in human development and family studies.

The success of the SOAR program is evident as smiling and laughing students spend the day learning the ins and outs of BGSU, getting to know each other, registering for classes and heading back home with smiles on their faces and feeling a little less apprehensive about their upcoming journey.

As Kalia Johnson left campus, she said, "I was really nervous this morning, but after I got here, I realized everyone is in the same boat, and that helps; it helps a lot!"

(Posted July 1, 2013 )