Like the generations of Keene State College students who “enter to learn, and go forth to serve,” the orientation program offered by the college is ever changing.
Casey Justice, Director of Transitions and Parent Programs at KSC, believes that each student at KSC should be given an environment where they can be able to grow and thrive. Orientation is the first step to that process.
“I don’t think we can just stay stagnant with the presentations we do on a yearly basis because students change. The incoming first year class – there’s always something new and something different and we have to put a lot of energy behind that interpretation that they will develop of KSC.”
Justice, who played a big part in executing the orientation programs this year, said, “We want them to feel like this is their home away from home, and that they’re able to feel like they can be successful here.”
KSC’s 2016 orientation consisted of two parts: a June overnight experience on campus and an August Welcome Week.
During the overnight program in June, prospective new students were invite
d to KSC to select their class schedules, look around campus and start to make connections with other first year students.
Families of these students were given the opportunity to get information about the resources that KSC has to offer.
On August 24, 2016 KSC Welcome Week began.
On the first day, new students moved in between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. before they were officially “clapped in” to KSC at 2:45 p.m.
New Student Convocation is an age-old KSC tradition in which new students march down Appian Way while faculty and staff stand on either side, clapping to welcome them.
When students graduate from KSC, they are then “clapped out” by the same faculty and staff when they walk down the Fiske Quad as new alumni.
“This was the first year we invited students’ families to join in the ‘clap in,’ and I think it was really successful,” Justice said. “Students and their families really appreciated seeing that as a send-off.”
The next four days were jam-packed with presentations and activities for new students.
According to Justice, every orientation event is carefully thought out.
“These are long days and we know that,” Justice said, “but we wouldn’t be providing all the sessions that we do if we didn’t think that each and every one was important.”
Juliet Karam, a first year at KSC, said that she really enjoyed all aspects of orientation. “There was a really nice flow to the [week in August],” Karam said, “and everyone was so helpful on move-in day.”
Over the next four days before classes started, each new student was put into an orientation group of 25-30 students, led by a KSC upperclassman.
“I think that being an orientation leader… well, it’s in the title, they’re leaders on campus,” Justice explained.
“Aside from admissions, which is the first interaction incoming students will have with the college, the orientation leaders become the face of KSC.”
Justice thinks that it’s important for the orientation leaders to know that they’re held at a very high standard. She described the students chosen as “Keene State die-hards who bleed red and white.”
Two such die-hards are Taylor Merritt and Amber Perkins.
Merritt, who is a junior at KSC, said that this was her first experience as an orientation leader. Perkins, a senior, has been an orientation leader for the last three years.
“It’s really a phenomenal experience,” Perkins said of her time as an orientation leader. “It’s changed my life since I’ve come here. It’s the best organization I’ve been a part of on campus.”
Merritt noted that in June the students were all shy and closed off. “Once we got to know each other though, they became very close and very trusting of each other and even the staff,” Merritt said.
“I wish that we had the June session when I was a freshman, but I still think that orientation really helped me,” Merritt explained. “I hope that I was able to help my orientation group students transition to KSC as well as my leader did when I was a freshman.”
Perkins said that the June overnight gives students an introduction to campus before August.
“Coming in June gives students more excitement than nervousness for when they come back in August,” Perkins said. “I feel like they’re more ready to come back. They feel more included on campus.”
Karam said, “June was a preview of [the August] orientation. It was really fun.”
During the June orientation, Karam was able to meet many other first year students who she now considers good friends.
Merritt said, “It’s really important that students know they’re not alone and that they have someone to go to.”
Perkins added, “I’ve had students call me and ask ‘Where’s the Elliot Center?’ and others just call and say they need someone to sit with at lunch. For me, it’s really great getting to be there for them.”
Perkins said that she’s still friends with a very large handful of students she led in her first two years of being an orientation group leader.
Karam said that her orientation leader is definitely someone she feels comfortable enough to use as a resource for the rest of her freshman year.
“Orientation is definitely overlooked in the way that it helps students,” Merritt said.
“I feel like I know my way around campus for the most part,” Karam said, in regards to the orientation program.
“I think [KSC staff and orientation leaders] did a really good job setting it all up.”
Of the way that orientation has changed in the last few years, Perkins is definitely impressed.
“This year I had perfect attendance. Every student came to every event,” Perkins said. “That meant a lot to me, and it said a lot about the program and how it has advanced.”
Perkins added, “I feel like finally, everybody wanted to be a part of it. They were positive. Everyone enjoyed themselves.”
As a senior, this was Perkins’ last year as an orientation leader. She said, “I’m really going to miss it.”
While the goal of orientation week is obviously to help out new students, Justice definitely thinks that the orientation group leaders get just as much out of the experience.
“Orientation leaders always say ‘this is a once in a lifetime experience,’” Justice said. “For them to be a part of so many KSC students’ very first experiences at college is a really exciting opportunity and it’s a great resume builder. “There are a lot of life skills that they are able to pull from being an orientation leader.”
Justice said, “A huge part of orientation is setting up first years to be successful. It’s about providing them those resources.”
Justice believes that the relationship between orientation group leaders and incoming college first years is a unique one.
“I think it’s really important for new students to feel like they have multiple people on this campus that support them and that care about them, and that they’re able to make as many connections as they’re willing to make,” Justice said.
Jill Giambruno can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.