Op-Ed: First Year Experience is valuable
By THE ORIENTATION TEAM
This past week an article titled, “Expensive first year student program should be optional” was released regarding what some believe to be negative aspects of the First Year Experience. Initially, it seemed as though the main purpose of this article was to focus on the cost of the program as a whole, however as students who have attended and worked for the program, we feel this article was severely misguided and misinformed. Orientation and New Student Arrival are essential in cultivating one’s experience at Mary Washington. Whether that be through relationships that they have created with fellow students and faculty, or getting acquainted with the university as a whole, these programs are invaluable for all incoming first-year students.
For so many, Orientation provides a sense of newfound confidence and helps you foresee what your community might look like for the next four years. There are many activities to choose from, but this is because you will never be in a space where everyone around you is experiencing the same process. While this could be tiresome or uncomfortable, building a community begins with making connections with the people around you. If it were not for Orientation, building relationships would become increasingly difficult. It is these very relationships that many statistics have proven to have the greatest effect on a student’s college experience.
For Mary Washington specifically, it has been proven time and time again that this program is successful in many ways. The retention rate of the university as a whole has increased, there is a satisfaction rate amongst students who have attended orientation of 94 percent, and students frequently reference how instrumental orientation was to the beginning of their time here.
Orientation Leaders have had the unique position of being able to experience the program from multiple angles. Each of us went through the orientation experience, whether that be as incoming first years or as transfer students, as well as semester-long training in the spring and summer in order to help make this the best possible program for incoming students and their families. Through this program, staff from numerous disciplines were able to come together with this shared interest of creating the best experience for new students.
In doing so, we gained an incredibly influential and unique leadership position on campus. Additionally, we were able to continue this position into the fall semester as Peer Mentors, where we were able to further aid in the social and academic transition of students. While we were required as Peer Mentors to put on several events throughout the semester, the students were able to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to attend. We served as an important resource students could choose to utilize, much like one would with the Writing Center, Speaking Center, or Digital Knowledge Center.
It deeply saddens us to read an article that does not accurately portray the First Year Experience: a program which we experienced as students and a program which we went on to serve as leaders in. The time and consideration spent to develop and improve this program with each coming year has proven to have a positive effect on students. Statistics aside, as leaders we were able to see the change in these students first-hand. Many of us have kept in touch with our orientees and mentees, and still serve as a resource for them well beyond their first year. The concern and care we have for our incoming students are the reason so much time and energy are devoted to this program. Because the harder we work to help foster relationships and build a community for first-year students, the more our campus becomes a home for everyone.
The Orientation Team