The First Year Experience: a guide

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Every year a new class of students joins the William Jewell College community, and every year this new class undergoes Jewell’s unique first-year experience. The first-year experience is defined as everything that is included with helping students make the transition to Jewell so that they are comfortable on campus and can thrive during their inaugural year. Much of the experience focuses on the orientation process, but it also includes adapting to living situations, connecting with people, coping with the college work load and getting used to campus life in general.

Some schools allow first-years to move in early and Jewell’s orientation process is unique to its campus. The planning of orientation events begins the in the fall of the previous year. An Orientation Director is selected based on the individual’s past performance as a mentor. This year that position was held by Ellie Esry, junior. Once chosen, the director assembles an advising team of mentors to help oversee the program. Together the team plans orientation events for the following year. In the spring, the team also helps select mentors who will guide a group of first-years. This is a competitive process. Candidates must apply and interview for the position. “The transition to college can be very intimidating and you need somebody who is going to be passionate about making that transition the easiest it can be and just loves Jewell,” Esry said.

Over the summer, the mentors reach out to the entering class to address questions or concerns they may have. Many of the mentors also help with Cardinal Days, the day incoming students enroll in classes, and with Summer Fling, an overnight stay on campus. Summer Fling is a casual event that allows students to get to know Jewell’s campus and meet members of their class. Many students find roommates at the event and those who do not still benefit from the experience, as they get to know some familiar faces around campus before moving into the residence halls. Mary Dickerson, Associate Director for Student Development, is largely responsible for organizing Summer Fling. “It’s very helpful,” Dickerson said. “Students who attend Summer Fling seem more sure of their decision. They already know how to use the dining hall and get a sense of how the residence hall is. They get to know each other a little and feel more comfortable coming back.”

Once summer is over, the most important part of orientation begins. Mentors move in early in order to prepare to greet the students in their mentor groups. Once the incoming students move in, the mentors lead the students in informative and entertaining activities to help them acclimate to the Jewell environment.

“Overall, preparing for the first-years to come is one of the most exciting parts of the year for me,” Cameron VanDyke, mentor advisor and junior. “I love everyone’s extra enthusiasm for those first days back on the Hill, and it is always so exciting to meet the new class of incoming students. I still remember my experience as a first-year vividly, and it is my goal to make new students feel as welcome as I did when I was in their shoes.”

Several events are packed in to the first week for first-years, all of which are intended to teach students valuable information about Jewell’s environment and encourage them to interact with fellow first-years and upperclassmen. Some of the events included are campus tours and activites with Tucker Leadership Lab. There is also a service project, which allows students to get off campus and get to know the Liberty area better. There is a departmental picnic so that students can introduce themselves to their professors and meet students in the same major.

“What makes this transition so easy for our first-years is the amount of structure there is the first few days they come to campus,” VanDyke said.

Creating a positive first-year experience extends beyond orientation week. The residence staff of the first-year residence hall complete training prior to move-in day. They also prepare the residence halls, a process which includes steps like separating keys into envelopes and checking rooms, to more welcoming gestures like decorating hallways and creating name tags for residents’ doors. Residence staff continue to take measures throughout the year in order to help students become adjusted to life on campus. Kothney-Issa Bush, Resident Director in Browning Hall, spoke about how the residence staff aims to create a welcoming and comfortable environment for new students. “The first-year halls strive to build a close knit community among one another and do a lot of programming to help with this. The first-years’ experiences prep them for a successful Jewell career,” Bush said.

Advisors and professors are also key in making the first-year experience a good one. From the beginning, the advisors help with scheduling and academic programs, such as how many credit hours a student should take and how to fit certain classes into schedules. In addition, they set up meetings throughout the year in order to see if the students are adjusting well and if the students are healthy and happy. Dickerson emphasized how much Jewell staff cares about its students. “On a campus the size of Jewell, teachers notice when you don’t go to class or if your performance changes. I’ve received worried calls from teachers asking if someone is okay. They really do care,” Dickerson said.

As the year continues, the students and staff at Jewell have advice to help the first-years adjust.

“Give everything a chance and be open to new opportunities, Jewell’s full of opportunities. Sometimes you just have to seek them out and keep an open mind,” Esry said.

Dickerson advises students to take advantage of all the organizations the campus has to offer. She cautioned students not to overextend themselves. “Learn to manage time and know when to say no,” Dickerson said.

“Some of my favorite memories have been the ones that I didn’t plan for. It is important to do well in classes, get involved in extra-curriculars, scope out internship and networking opportunities and be a responsible student. All I am saying is that nobody looks back and remembers the nights they got lots of sleep,” said VanDyke.

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