Hayes: First-year experience extends beyond first week

Hayes: First-year experience extends beyond first week

Bob Hayes, Assistant Opinion Editor

As another Wildcat Welcome comes to a close, it is important for us to consider where Northwestern succeeds and where it could do better in cultivating a comfortable and helpful environment for its incoming freshmen and transfer students.

To various extents for different students, beginning college is a time of anxiety toward starting a new, independent life as well as a time of fear regarding the academic challenges of attending a high-caliber school. The ultimate goal of Wildcat Welcome should be to alleviate these worries and to immerse new students into a peaceful, enjoyable environment.

Peer advisers dedicate a substantial amount of time and thought to their groups, each of around fifteen students, and we students should commend them for that. A competitively selected group of students from all of NU’s schools undergoes months of training solely to ensure first-year students have an outstanding experience, particularly during their first week on campus.

From this past Monday’s notoriously stressful move-in day to next Monday’s convocation with President Morton Schapiro, PAs lead a week full of icebreaker activities, academic advising meetings, group meals in dining halls and Essential NU (ENU) sessions. These ENUs – NU Inclusion; Mental Health and Wellness at NU; Wildcat Voices, Alcohol Choices and Student Body: Sexual Assault and Violence – focus on providing new students awareness of new issues that arise in a college environment as well as helping students acquire the confidence to make responsible, healthy decisions. The University has tinkered with these ENUs over the years, with the current slate representing the ENUs which best give students a new level of understanding how to act upon important college issues.

Freshmen and transfer students are lucky if they know a dozen classmates by the time they move into their dorm rooms. Wildcat Welcome’s PA group structure ensures that everyone gets to know his or her PA groupmates and has a solid collection of friends entering the year. For some of NU’s schools, these peer advising groups continue to have a class together in fall quarter, which allows everyone to return to a group of familiar faces during the first few months of the year.

Although Wildcat Welcome is an overwhelming week of constant fun, intrigue and learning, all these things stop too abruptly once the week ends. Students’ anxiety continues and, in some cases, increases as they enter their first stressful quarter at NU. Some further guidance could benefit the student community.

Last year, NU tried the IGNITE program on a select group of students – myself included. We were assigned into new groups and met throughout fall quarter to discuss problems we have had as new students and how we can enhance our overall experience.  Although the intentions and the idea of IGNITE were great, the program was largely a failure, and the University has decided to discontinue it this year. Students found it difficult to connect with a completely new group. Thus, few students were interested when attending meetings and failed to gain much benefit.

A similar program conducted by PAs with their original groups could better address the interests of first-year students. People would feel comfortable returning to a familiar group and working with a peer adviser whom they trust. This year, students in McCormick will continue to meet with their PA groups throughout the year for programming similar to that of Wildcat Welcome, which I believe is a great idea that NU could extend to all PA groups. Additionally, students can attend optional events, called Wildcat Weekends, during the first four weekends of Fall Quarter. These were established with the goal of extending the impact of Wildcat Welcome into the year. This is an interesting idea, but I question the attendance numbers at large group events and whether attending these events will actually address personal issues for which students seek guidance.

Even if the University does not require PA groups to meet, my outstanding PA’s choice to offer weekly “office hours” – a time for anyone in the group to casually meet at Norris – should be replicated by every PA. Each group has different qualities and faults, so PAs can certainly adjust to the interests of their respective groups in order to optimize each student’s situation.

As well done as Wildcat Welcome is in providing assistance, entertainment and comfort to students, we must remember that the first-year experience extends beyond the first week.

Bob Hayes is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

Previous stories on this topic:

Wildcat Welcome adds new programs continuing into Fall Quarter
McCormick introduces Wildcat Welcome overhaul
Administrators look to evaluate, refine college transition program