Extended first-year programs to enhance ‘full Northwestern experience’

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Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Peer advisers cheer as the class of 2017 enters Deering Meadow during Welcome Week. New programming changes will extend the first year experience beyond new student orientation.

Jeanne Kuang, Assistant Campus Editor

New Student and Family Programs selected its inaugural First-Year Student Task Force on Tuesday, expanding its efforts to maintain a welcoming and engaging campus community beyond Wildcat Welcome.

The initiative, which drew 60 applications, consists of 25 students from all six undergraduate schools, mostly in their first year, said Joshua McKenzie, director of the first year experience. The students will meet every other week to research the Northwestern community, discuss campus issues and student concerns and work with McKenzie to suggest ways to address them in the future.

McKenzie said the program will help first-year students “have a better start at Northwestern.”

“They’re doing a lot of conversations within themselves, research within the community,” he said. “We’re going to be taking some time to chat a little bit about what their experiences are so far, and going ahead and defining some issues and challenges and successes. Then we can move forward in a more knowledgeable way.”

The First-Year Student Task Force marks a shift in focus for New Student and Family Programs, whose activities previously emphasized helping incoming students the summer before their arrival and culminated in Wildcat Welcome.

“At the end of that, historically we’ve said, essentially, ‘Good luck, goodbye and hopefully the rest of the year turns out well,'” McKenzie said. “But as you know, transition isn’t magically solved in seven days of programming.”

Now, he said, the office wants to implement more programs for first-year students throughout the year. McKenzie’s title, formerly assistant director of New Student and Family Programs, was changed this year to associate director of New Student and Family Programs and director of the first year experience to reflect his office’s new goals

Another way the office plans to enhance the first-year experience is through the yearlong pilot program, IGNITE. Peer adviser groups numbering 500 new students — a quarter of the class — and representing all six undergraduate schools were chosen to participate in the program, which is mandatory for the selected students.

McKenzie said the office plans to expand the program to the entire class of 2018.

The students will be part of small groups of 12 to 15 students led by a PA. They will meet periodically and participate in discussions that McKenzie said will focus on “peer-to-peer learning.” IGNITE programs will also include larger events such as trips to Chicago, and students are encouraged to attend campus events such as plays or speakers, with prize drawings as incentives.

“We want to do what we do well during Wildcat Welcome throughout the school year,” McKenzie said.

Weinberg senior Lauren Sadowsky, director of first-year initiatives within the Wildcat Welcome Board of Directors, said IGNITE connects “new students to people on campus, to campus resources and to one another.”

She said she hopes the program will also have a trickle effect and encourage all new students to be more interested in a diverse range of campus events for the “full Northwestern experience.”

Medill freshman Karen Gwee is one of the students whose PA group was selected for IGNITE. Gwee said she initially felt pressured into participating in a program she did not volunteer for but is interested in meeting new people through the IGNITE small groups.

“During Wildcat Welcome, I only hung out with my PA group, which is only Medill freshmen, so I guess I’ll get to meet people from Weinberg, from McCormick, from SESP,” she said.

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