Eleven thousand incoming freshmen and their parents will make their way to MU this summer to attend the whirlwind orientation and registration session called Summer Welcome, a program that stands alone because it’s almost entirely organized and led by students.
“Summer Welcome really is a year-round planning process, and for all the effort and planning and time that goes into it, the (student) leaders are the ones who make it happen, who make it such a powerful event for so many of the students and parents,” said David Rielley, MU coordinator of new student programs.
The orientation program, which students put together for their peers, helps incoming freshmen make the transition to MU both academically and socially and increases the likelihood of them staying at MU, Rielley said.
With an average of 92 to 94 percent of the incoming freshmen class attending Summer Welcome each year, student leader Laura Piper said she and her co-workers help students take advantage of everything the university has to offer. To accomplish that, the student leaders are carefully chosen during the school year.
They undergo rigorous interviews and training to get their positions. Of 150 applicants for leaders this year, only 36 were chosen after three interviews. Training began in February with 90-minute sessions every week until finals week. The leaders then went through 17 days of intense training on learning to function as a group and to familiarize themselves with all of the MU departments.
Their activities included going to the mall and challenging the patience of customer-service employees to learn to interact better with others. Through it all, leaders said, they learned how to deal with students and become good friends in the process.
While new student leaders are hired every year, two leaders from the previous year take on the job of student coordinators. This year’s coordinators, Jenn Stuth and Hillary Miller, worked throughout the school year to oversee the program and hire and train new leaders. They also went to the National Orientation Directors Conference in Seattle last fall.
Stuth said she has developed an even greater pride for MU through her involvement in Summer Welcome.
“It has made me just so proud to go to school here to see all the wonderful things that happen all across campus that you are not aware of until a program like this really opens your eyes to it,” Stuth said.
Piper said her work is especially rewarding when she sees students begin to open up and ask questions about college life as the activities progress.
Through the experience, the leaders said they also have a clear sense of why they do what they do.
“I love challenges, and this is probably the biggest challenge Mizzou has to offer in regards to leadership potential,” said leader Ben Graham.
At this year’s Summer Welcome, students and parents can choose from 18 different day-and-a-half-long sessions, which include group discussions, fairs and presentations.
The session started last Tuesday and will go until July 7, with about 500 parents and students attending each one. The activities focus on parents just as much as students, as they often have questions and concerns when their sons and daughters head off to college.
The leaders try to put everyone’s minds at ease.
At a recent session, Linda and Bill Dosenbach, whose daughter Laura will attend MU in the fall, said that while it was challenging to absorb all the information being presented to them, they thought the leaders’ enthusiasm for MU was encouraging.
Diane Bordenkircher, an incoming freshman from Mount Sterling, Ill., said her leader was a strong role model who also made her feel at home on campus.
“I think it’s just a good experience to get familiar with the campus and familiar with procedure even if you already think you know everything there is to know. There is always going to be something that they are going to throw in that’s helpful,” Bordenkircher said.