Brand New To NU

By Steve AquinoPLAY Writer

If any part of New Student Week could be described as kitsch, my vote would go for the awkwardness that is pretty much inevitable when 2,000 strangers are shipped to the North Shore for the adventure that is college at NU. It comes (mainly in the form of saying your name, major and hometown so many times you’d rather it just be printed on your forehead to save you the ten seconds) but students deal with it and eventually it becomes something to laugh about – a quaint college rite of passage, if you will.

For Marc Skjervem, though, there isn’t any awkwardness in being a newcomer; in fact, as Northwestern’s new director of Orientation and Parent Program’s, it’s his job to know how to ease the high school-college transition (for students and parents alike) – and to make that NSW awkwardness as comfortable as possible.

Skjervem, who took over the post in June after previous director Jen Meyers left to work on a Ph.D., talked with PLAY about small towns, his advice for new students and what he’s learned during his time at Northwestern.

PLAY: You grew up and went to school in small towns. What’s it been like transitioning to Chicago?

Marc Skjervem: Well, my degree has kind of taken me where I’ve gone. I did grow up in North Dakota – a small town called Michigan with 312 people. I went to undergrad at Concordia College up in Moorhead, Minn., which is another small community. Student affairs was kind of the route I wanted to go – I was really involved with Concordia’s orientation program – so I ended up going to Illinois State down in Normal to get my master’s degree. After that I went to Purdue – another pretty small town – and I did orientation there. Then I moved up to Minneapolis where I continued to do orientation at Augsburg College. Eventually, orientation lead me here to Northwestern.

PLAY: You’re almost as new to Northwestern as the Class of 2010. What advice can you give the freshmen about being newcomers to NU?

MS: You hear so much about the Northwestern students and the community: I think sometimes the Northwestern students get pigeonholed or stereotyped in a certain way. One thing I learned rather quickly is that you should kind of take it for what it’s worth and experience your own opinions of Northwestern. Live and grow in the time that you have here, because that’s what’s going to make and shape your experiences. College is such a learning experience. Coming to Northwestern was such a huge step for me. I really think it’s just going to blossom, but also I need to take it step by step and not think I know everything right away. You’ve got to soak it all in, learn from what you can do – and what you can’t do – and just let it all happen.

PLAY: A few of the students I’ve talked to were surprised that someone as passionate about her job as Jen Meyers would leave. Most quotes went something like, “I can’t believe she’s going. She’s so intense.” That is, intense in a good way. How do you think students will see you?

MS: You know, I heard a lot of that, too. I think Jen was very passionate about her job and everything that the New Student Week program offered. I still have that passion, I have the drive and everything, and I really hope people see that. I love my job and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love it. I’m really down to Earth.

PLAY: What’s been the best part about your time at Northwestern?

MS: The coolest thing is just the feeling that you’re at an elite institution, you’re in the Chicago area and you’re at a place with Big-10 athletics. You get the best of all worlds with Northwestern. As far as New Student Week, I thought the whole program was great. The analogy I use when I went through it was that it’s kind of like opening birthday gifts. I planned for two months – kind of like making a wish list. You’re birthday comes along, and sometimes you get exactly what you want, and sometimes you open your gift and you’re not so sure about it, maybe save that for next year. My New Student Week was a bunch of surprises, but I kind of knew what to expect at the same time.