Summer Welcome Leaders continue orientation tradition
A record number of participants indicates all-time high enrollment this fall
Story by Ashley Szatala
Columbia, Missouri – Anurag Chandran, a political science and economics major from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, remembers confusion his first week in the College Avenue residence hall freshman year. His floor mates had asked him when he attended Summer Welcome, but he had never heard of it. When they explained Summer Welcome is an orientation program for new students to Mizzou, he wanted to know more.
This conversation his first week at Mizzou was the catalyst needed to get him involved with the event. Nearly two years later, he made it to Summer Welcome not as an incoming student, but as a leader.
“It was the biggest learning and growing experience of my life,” Chandran says.
The tradition of Summer Welcome is strategically planned not only to ease the transition of incoming students, but also to aid in the development of those who lead it.
The beginning of a journey
“Once you say yes, you know your journey begins,” Chandran says of becoming a Summer Welcome leader. “The first two days [of Summer Welcome] you ease into it. Everyone has their own style.”
The individual styles of leadership help incoming students become more comfortable with the Mizzou environment.
“The incoming freshmen are the future,” says Danny Forman, graduate assistant for New Student Programs, the office responsible for Summer Welcome. “They’re the ones making an impact for the next four years.”
The leaders help get them excited to be on campus and let them know it is a place for their own personal development.
“It’s a giant confidence boost for [incoming students],” says 2014 leader Shannon Dawson, a junior business administration major from Hartland, Wisconsin.
A continued tradition
The earliest record of Summer Welcome at Mizzou was in 1969, and photos of each group of leaders since 1972 decorate the walls of the New Student Programs office in the lower level of the MU Student Center.
The photos read like a "Who’s Who" of Mizzou alumni. Musician Sheryl Crow, BS Ed ’84, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, BA ’79, and St. Louis broadcaster Art Holliday, BJ ’76, are among the faces of past Summer Welcome leaders.
The purpose of the orientation is much more than just registering students for classes.
Incoming freshmen know Mizzou in generalities, and Summer Welcome programming intentionally integrates the academic and nonacademic resources to prepare students for a well-rounded college experience.
“We help them see it’s a new stage of life, and they don’t have to continue being the person they were in high school,” says David Rielley, senior coordinator of New Student Programs.
This summer, an all-time high of 6,129 freshmen and 726 transfer students participated in Summer Welcome, a number that signals another record enrollment this fall. Although the number of participants might be larger, the formula for executing a successful Summer Welcome hardly changes.
“We have this precedent that we have built upon,” says Forman. Freshmen are placed in groups based on where they will be living in the fall, and if their roommates are attending the same day, then they are in a group together, too. Transfer students are grouped by their academic unit.
“Everything is done to a science,” says 2014 leader Phil Bergman, a junior journalism major from Media, Pennsylvania. For example, parents and students are separated at strategic times so they can learn twice as much. Every minute of the day is planned out well in advance.
“We do a good job mingling information and entertainment for them,” Dawson says. Students are provided with information in the morning and entertainment in the evening. At night, the 36 leaders perform a series of funny skits in the form of dances, songs and monologues in Jesse Auditorium; this Summer Welcome tradition is known as Revue. Afterward, Buck’s ice cream is handed out and a dance party ensues back at the Hudson-Gillett residence hall.
After each summer, staff in the New Student Programs office review extensive evaluations that students, parents, faculty and staff comment on, and they take notes on how to improve Summer Welcome. The evaluations let staff know what issues need to be addressed in future sessions.
A few years ago, more students were going into health fields, so a panel on working in health care was offered. The current trend is students living off campus — a result of growing enrollment and limited residence hall space. A new program, Freshmen Off-Campus United in Success (FOCUS), has been designed to help connect freshmen living off campus and was promoted at this year’s Summer Welcome sessions.
Hard training yields a rewarding experience
Pulling off a successful Summer Welcome requires the right leaders for the job. Recruitment begins in late October, and annually, around 200 people apply for the job. Only 36 are hired. Interested students first attend an information session, then three rounds of interviews are held to narrow down the applicants.
“We have to have a lot of trust in them,” Rielley says. “We want a student to look down at a leader and say, ‘That person is like me.’ ”
The 36 selected leaders attend training once a week during the spring semester to learn about campus programs and resources. After final exams, leaders go on a camping trip to continue training, bond as a team and also write Revue skits. The ideas for skits are entirely the students’ own. The only requirement is that Revue opens with the national anthem and closes with the alma mater. Slowly, the nearly 40 suggested skits were narrowed down to 11.
“The training was almost just as fun as Summer Welcome,” Bergman says.
Although fun, it was also challenging. “Those were some of the toughest moments of my life,” Chandran says of the experience.
Once orientation sessions begin in June, the leaders usually work from 7:15 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and then work from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Fridays for the transfer student orientation. An unwritten tradition calls for leaders to get out of Columbia for the weekend and go to someone’s house elsewhere in the state or surrounding states, such as Chicago. It’s another opportunity for them to bond and take a break. “It’s really nice to hang out,” Bergman says. “We’re fresh and ready to go for the week.”
After more than six weeks of orientation sessions, incoming students grow closer to the Mizzou family, and the Summer Welcome leaders become family.
“I didn’t get bored on my job once,” Bergman says. “We (the leaders) are a team. I hardly knew any of them, and now they are my 35 closest friends.”