Off-campus treks forge freshmen bonds

Friday, August 27, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:58 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

While many freshmen spend their first days at college touring the grounds and visiting the bookstore, some first-years at Columbia College spent last Saturday getting to know each other away from campus.

Through the school’s “Explorientation’’ program, participating students spent “Cougar Day’’ — named for the Columbia College mascot — with campus life staff members at the Lake of the Ozarks, on a float trip in Steelville, at the state fair in Sedalia or in downtown St. Louis.

“A huge part of the college experience is feeling you have a fit socially and have support,” said Kim Kinyon, director of student development. “The day trips are a big part of that support. It’s amazing to see the bonds that are forged during that day.’’

The activities help students put names with the faces they will see during the year, and having a personal relationship with those people makes new students feel more comfortable, Kinyon said. This is the fourth year for the Cougar Day orientation program. Although the day trips are voluntary, 113 of the school’s 185 new freshman and transfer students participated.

“The more we do these, the more people want to do them,’’ said Stephanie Faler, an administrative assistant with Columbia’s education department.

Karissa Scott helps train the community consultants who assist the freshmen in their transition into Columbia College. She participated in the Lake of the Ozarks trip this year and sees the outings as a way to break away from the campus setting while still building a sense of community among the new students.

“It sends a real message to them that Columbia College is really invested in them,’’ Scott said.

Nick Carroll participated in the Lake of the Ozarks trip as a new student and said he enjoyed getting off campus and being able to relax. The drive to the lake — with 12 people in one van — served as the perfect time to meet new people.

“We played the name game so we got to know everyone,’’ Carroll said.

MU and Stephens College also hold freshman orientation programs to help students feel more welcome on campus.

At MU, orientation begins in June or July. Incoming freshmen participate in Summer Welcome, which involves visiting campus to take care of the registration and advisement process. This year, 5,137 freshmen and transfer students attended Summer Welcome sessions, said David Rielley, coordinator of new student programs.

A week before school begins, freshmen can attend Fall Welcome activities, which are more socially oriented. Activities include a midnight barbecue, a campus picnic and spirit rally. The Tiger Walk, in which students walk through the MU Columns toward Jesse Hall, serves as the official welcome to the university.

“If you don’t have an enjoyable social atmosphere, you won’t do well in the classroom,’’ Rielley said. “The first step in getting comfortable in your environment is meeting people.’’

Stephens College also holds on-campus activities to welcome new students. The college offers a campus picnic, an official welcome address, team-building activities, a watermelon feast and “Songfest,’’ an acting and singing competition.

“It’s a fun thing for the whole campus to do,’’ said Deb Duren, vice president of student services. Stephens has about 200 new students this year, almost all of whom have participated in orientation activities, she said.

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