Orientation leaders give freshmen a crash course on college life

Orientation leaders give freshmen a crash course on college life

Orientation leaders give freshmen a crash course on college life
June 28
12:30 2018

Cars with license plates from different cities and states roam around the UNT Coliseum searching for parking spots, and teens who graduated from high school less than a month ago roll their luggage up to Gate B to take the first steps in their college journey: orientation.

Some of them appear self-assured and prepared for what the next three days will bring, while others enter with a parent by their side who shares the same look of confusion they have. No matter which mindset a student is in, the orientation leaders who are awaiting their arrival inside make it their mission for them to leave excited to come back in the fall.

Orientation leaders guide new batches of freshmen through activities, information sessions and several small group meetings during each of the 12 freshman summer orientations. They are responsible for giving the students crucial information, but they deliver it in a way that is relatable and fun. As they walk their assigned groups around campus, they play songs they know the students will love and want to sing along to, like current popular songs or songs from old Disney movies. Each of the leaders makes themselves seen not as a superior, but as a mentor and a friend.

Second-year leader Chelsea Sumpon knew she wanted to apply for the position after finishing her own freshman year orientation.

“My orientation leader Lauren was a little bit of my inspiration,” Sumpon said. “I just really had a good experience in general, so that’s why I wanted to be an [orientation leader].”

For her first orientation session, Sumpon was aware of the weight of her role and was determined to be a good leader.

“I was super nervous,” Sumpon said. “I wanted to make sure that I was doing my job right, that students were getting the right things out [of it] and that I was telling them great things about the university. I think that nervousness went down after I made sure they were reciprocating and listening to me.”

Over the past few summers, Sumpon has figured out the key to communicating with and relating to her students and has grown to enjoy the experience even more.

“You just have to be confident, and as sessions have gone on, I’ve been very confident,” Sumpon said. “I can see a big difference between this year and last year, and I definitely know answers that I can tell them. It’s been a whirlwind, [and] I love this job. [For] anyone [who] wants to get the chance to be part of the university, this is the job to start [with].”

Eleanor Jackson, another returning leader, aims to give new students advice and comfort.

“I wanted to come back and be an orientation leader because I just wanted to tell those students, ‘I know you’re anxious, I know you’re nervous, but trust me this is going to be the best four years of your life if you want to make it that way,'” Jackson said.

Jackson wants people at orientation to know that they belong here and that UNT is a place for everyone.

“Making sure they know that whoever they are, they can definitely express that here at UNT [is important],” Jackson said. “Whatever they’re looking for, like maybe a friend group or even the resources we have, like counseling or joining a fun [organization], they can definitely get that here — they just have to put their mind to it.”

Junior Tai Tran helps direct incoming students and families to different locations around campus and stations for orientation check-in. He also helps direct them to the dorms they will be staying in during orientation. Josh Jamison

The peace of mind of the new students is a significant part of orientation that also extends to the leaders who all look out for one another.

“Orientation takes a lot out of you because you are doing all these sessions back-to-back,” Jackson said. “It’s a lot of pressure. We just make sure that we’re always a family and when someone has a down day, we know exactly how to pick them up.”

In addition to orientation leaders, there are student coordinators, who have one to two years of experience as orientation leaders. The student coordinators are a little less hands-on with students because their job is to help organize orientations, but they are still able to make a difference in the students’ days.

Student coordinator Tai Tran finds ways throughout the day to speak to students and be involved in their transition to college.

My position is more behind the scenes — I don’t really get to interact as much or have a small group that I can talk to, but I’m actually able to talk to students still,” Tran said. “I come up to random groups or during dinner time or lunch time during playfair. I just love the interaction I have with students because that interaction allows them to see what UNT is all about. It makes them comfortable.”

Tran initially wanted to be an orientation leader because of the changes he sees occur in students during orientation.

“It’s really because of the students and parents,” Tran said. “Seeing them from the very beginning of orientation — nervous, scared, unsure — and then seeing them basically transform and see them be themselves and being able to see them grow in the three days or two days that they are here.”

The connections that orientation leaders make with incoming freshmen doesn’t end when the session does. The leaders want to see the students in their group thrive during the semester too.

“I think my favorite thing is coming back in the fall and seeing my students doing their own thing and seeing the outcome after orientation, and seeing what organizations they are involved in — anything like that,” Sumpon said. “I like to hear what they have done after I impact them.”

Although performing the duties of an orientation leader is something they all enjoy, it can be a very demanding job.

“It gets hectic, but I love it, “Sumpon said. “Sometimes I get no sleep. You have to go on the grind and you have to do it for the students and parents.”

The leaders make sure to take advantage of their time off in order to recharge as well as reconnect with one another.

“We usually just have one day to unwind [between sessions], so we take that day for ourselves or maybe go out to eat because during orientation we’re not allowed to go off campus,” Jackson said. “So [we will] maybe go off campus, go back home if [we] live close. Some of us love to play volleyball or sit in Clark [Hall] and watch movies all day — it’s really great.”

After an orientation leader decides to apply for this position, there is a long road to them actually becoming one. Applicants go through several interviews, and after being chosen, weeks of training that continue throughout the summer.

Orientation and Eagle Camp coordinator Emily Harris works behind the scenes to make sure everything is in order for the program, which includes the hiring of the orientation leaders.

“I think a really important component is having student leaders like our orientation leader staff.” Harris said. “We have 34 of them, plus a staff of student coordinators who help make the process run really smoothly and they’re really the ones who keep the students engaged.” 

Harris believes the leaders are a key component to the experience.

“We have a three-day and two-day session so it can be a lot and very overwhelming for these students,” Harris said. “I think a lot of it really comes down to students and orientation leaders really working together to help the students stay engaged and stay excited about transitioning to UNT.”

Ultimately, orientation leaders hope that with a little help from their welcoming smiles and affinity for singing and dancing their way across campus, new students will feel at like they’ve found a home.

“College is a new experience and it’s not about where you come from, but it’s about finding different backgrounds and understanding them because it’s very different from high school,” Sumpon said. “It is OK to be shy, but it’s also really great to have this time to be open-minded and just get out there because it is going to be a rollercoaster ride.”

Featured Image: Juniors Caitlyn Polloni (left) and Charlotte Loewes (right) dance and sing between checking in students. It’s important to create a welcoming environment to incoming freshmen. Josh Jamison

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Nikki Johnson-Bolden

Nikki Johnson-Bolden

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