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For 50 Undergrads, a Summer Well Spent Welcoming New Students

A Summer of Transition: Students Become Leaders as they Prepare Newcomers for College Life

NSOonStage 2013 cropped 360x240 It’s not your ordinary summer job.

“Our students do everything: perform skits, give guided tours and conduct one-on-one conversations on subjects ranging from academic advising to sexual assault,” says Brian MacDonald, director of new student orientation and family programs at Rutgers.

MacDonald was describing the responsibilities of some 50 undergraduates who serve as orientation leaders every summer, providing a comprehensive introduction to Rutgers for thousands of first year students and their parents, transfers, and international students.

This year, Rutgers is welcoming an incoming class of 4000 School of Arts and Sciences first-years and 1700 transfers.

Orientation leaders typically shepherd small groups of incoming students through a two-day program that covers everything from the campus bus system to the dining halls to the myriad opportunities for student involvement at Rutgers. They also lead several one-day orientations for transferring and non-traditional students.

“The idea is that after the new students spend two days with us, they’ll see Rutgers as an actual place and community where they live, not this abstract idea,” MacDonald said.   “They have a small group experience in a very large place and it really builds their confidence.”

NSONewStudents 2013 cropped 360x240Indeed, after finishing his two-day orientation in early August, Kurt Devonshire, a first-year student from England, was impressed.

“The whole experience just had this great spirit to it,” Devonshire said. “I feel comfortable and knowledgeable about Rutgers and I also know that I’ve already bonded with people.”

Undergraduates serving as orientation leaders are, in essence, ambassadors for Rutgers. They must not only possess a deep knowledge of the university and its resources, but also its culture, traditions and values.

The competition for the job is intense. Some 350 students apply for 50 positions, MacDonald said. Once they are chosen, they undergo weeks of training aimed at developing them into a team.

“We find that by really instilling a sense of purpose and a sense of connection and a real voice - they get opportunities for feedback - that they come to really believe in and care deeply about what they are doing,” MacDonald said.
Below, a handful of orientation leaders describe the summer experience in their own words.
MotivationMichael Goldstein, junior, applied kinesiology

“We are all very passionate about Rutgers. We love the school, and we want to make sure students have great first experiences. In terms of a work environment, this is by far the best I have ever been in. Besides the fact that everyone you work with is absolutely nice, they always motivate you to do better than you think you can do.

NSOLeadersSummer2013 360x240Preparation and Training: Virginia Cabrera, senior, psychology

We did a lot of team building activities. We worked with group dynamics, and really got to know each other a little bit better.  We started practicing how we would speak in front of large groups of students. We performed mini skits for each other. It was a lot of bonding, and it made the staff feel a little smaller.

Orientation Begins: Madison Hagar, junior, history

The students are randomly matched up with an orientation leader who they stay with for the two days. The groups range from 8 to 17 people. I met my groups at 9:30 and we start getting to know each other right away. As orientation leaders, we create a comfortable environment. In the beginning, we say our names, play games to introduce ourselves, and just break the ice.

Communication: Melissa Bergman, pharmacy

I let them know how to do things - not just where to go. I’ll tell them how they would go about printing something out.  I also tell them how they can get involved, and make friends. I tell them about how I started out, and where I made friends, like in club sports or in New Student Orientation.

Creating Community: Atiya Gilmore, junior, psychology

Some students are really excited to be here and are outgoing. You get others who want to be here but are a bit shy. Then there are some who don’t want to be here at all.

But by the end of the second day, the group just comes together and you see people conferring with each other without you having to ask them. Then they come up to you and say, "Wow, I had a really a great time in orientation."

It’s just the best feeling in the world.
Lessons Learned: D’Mitri Tisdale-Stanley, senior, information technology and informatics

When you interact with a lot of students, you’re dealing with many cultures. It becomes very clear very quickly you can’t use the same approach. Everyone is different. This experience really taught me about communication skills.   I am more sensitive to how people have different needs. That’s really important because when you show people you can understand and relate to them, it makes a very positive and transforming experience for them.

Visit the New Student Orientation website to learn about their programing including the upcoming Family and Parent Weekend, November 1-3, 2013.



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