The Return of Freshman Week
Reinvigorating a Rochester tradition, the College welcomes the Class of '05 with a weeklong orientation program.
By Jeffrey Marsh
About 1,000 members of the College Class of '05 arrived Sunday, August 26, as the new kids on the River Campus, but by the time classes started September 4, they were already old pros at college life.
In between, the new students had a chance to get used to the campus, plan their academic year, learn tips about college life, and, most important, establish a community of classmates.
It was all part of a revised Orientation Week, which celebrated its second session last fall. In an important new addition to building class community, the entire Class of '05 is housed on the Residential Quad, a change that will continue with future classes.
"The goal is to have the opportunity to develop a sense of class unity, the opportunity to connect their residential experience with the beginning of their academic experience," said Marcy Kraus, director of orientation and assistant dean of freshmen. "At the end of the nine-day orientation, they've tasted all these different things, and now they're ready to go out and begin the academic year. During the first few months, they'll meet more upperclassmen and participate more fully in campus life."
The revised orientation replaces the program's approach of the past few decades, in which incoming students and their parents visited campus for two-day sessions in small groups at different times during the summer. Under the former program, each year's new class did not have the chance to meet as a group until just before classes began.
The week's schedule was filled with a range of activities from formal introductions from administrators, one-on-one sessions with faculty advisors, entertainment events like movies and rollerskating, instructional programs on how to succeed in college, and the opportunity to help others.
Most new students appreciated the packed schedule.
"It's hectic," said Josephine Loo, who noted with a laugh that classes might actually be a relief. "We're always running around from one thing to another, very nonstop."
A few were hungry for more.
"If I sat around for another minute, I'd go crazy," said Micha Elsner as he joined other students in making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless. "I'm ready for classes already."
Regardless of the schedule, most welcomed the weeklong transition to college life.
"Most schools only have a day or two, but here they're really trying hard," said Amy Wakin. "I'm glad I chose to come here."
Kraus said planners aimed for a mix of activities for the week with three goals in mind.
Students need to take care of their academic business, they need to establish a community, which will give them the opportunity to get to know each other," Kraus said. "Then there's the social piece. Orientation is not all about work. It needs to be fun as well, and we've tried to balance all these things."
William Scott Green, dean of the College, welcomed the freshmen, pointing out that while they are at Rochester to receive an education, they should take advantage of their freedom as thinkers to explore topics that they are most interested in.
"Your education and your activities at this College belong to you," Green said to the students. "You will do your best work if you love what you do. Interest drives learning here, so you have an opportunity to become invested in what interests you."
The notion was echoed throughout the week as faculty and administrators reminded students that Rochester's academic program and social activities are designed to emphasize the freedom that students have to choose the best path for them.
"We provide a formal structure, but ultimately what you get out of college depends on what you put in," said President Jackson. "I hope you don't put in four years just to get a job. Because after this, life is increasingly about specialization. Our curriculum is designed to maximize your freedom, and the best way to take advantage is to focus on what interests you."
A top interest for most freshmen was meeting their classmates.
"The College staff has done a really good job of getting us to know each other," said Ben Lewis. "They're really organized. There's always something to do."
Those bonding activities included a trip downtown to see a Rochester Red Wings game, a video dance, late-night rollerskating, a "drive-in" movie on the Wilson Quadrangle, a beach party, and many others.
New students at the Eastman School of Music kicked up their heels at an annual square dance for incoming students.
"It's nice that the freshmen are here first and get to know everyone without
all the upperclassmen around," said Lyndsay Field. "Everyone's so
friendly and nice. It's a good time."
"It's fun to go to college without having to go to class, even for awhile," said Joe Bressler.
As with past introductions to campus, the week's activities included a focus on community service.
New and returning students chipped in to make more than 1,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Foodlink in the basement of Tiernan Hall, an activity that turned into a battle between Burton and Lovejoy Halls to see who could make more.
"I like to volunteer. It gives us something different to do to help out," said Azure Allen. "Rochester has given us so much to do already."
About 1,030 students, faculty, and staff volunteered to participate in the 13th annual Wilson Day (named in recognition of the civic spirit of University benefactor and Xerox founder Joseph C. Wilson '31), pitching in at a variety of sites in the community and region.
"I used to think Rochester was just one big suburb, so it was good to see a different part of Rochester," said Emily Locker, a volunteer who helped paint, re-carpet, and set up a computer training room at the Rosa Wims Family Wellness Center.
"The University is trying to open our eyes to what's available," said Brandi Davis. "It's fun to get out and volunteer and help people."
The largest group of students set up a carnival-complete with food, games, and prizes-for the elderly residents of the Episcopal Church Home. While some students ran the games and handed out popcorn and caramel apples, others helped the residents get from their rooms to enjoy the activities.
"It gives students a chance to get more involved," said Rich Kanefsky. "It also gives us more things to do to meet new people."
Jeffrey Marsh is associate editor of Rochester Review.
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