Students respond positively to longer Wildcat Welcome

Julie Fishbach, Reporter

Before arriving on campus, Medill freshman Rob Schaefer said he was skeptical about Wildcat Welcome.

Although he was excited to finally go to school after seeing all his friends leave home, Schaefer said he had doubts about the 10-day orientation program. Looking back on it, however, Schaefer said he appreciates the opportunities Wildcat Welcome provided.

“I had questions about the 10-day orientation, but I thought rather than (Wildcat Welcome) getting stale, as I got more acclimated, I enjoyed the week more,” Schaefer said. “When it was over I felt ready to go to classes.”

New Student and Family Programs extended the orientation program from the usual seven or eight days for the Class of 2019 and transfer students due to Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, which took place from sundown Sept. 13 to sundown Sept. 15, during Wildcat Welcome. No required activities could be held during this time until Tuesday evening, although optional programming was held beginning on Sunday night.

Communication junior Janie Dickerson, who served as a Peer Adviser this year and last year, said the two-day break in mandatory programing created a challenge to keep students engaged. If students did not observe the holiday but their PAs did, they were able to pair up with another group to participate in optional activities, she said.

“It was important to make sure they still have the support even though there was no programming,” Dickerson said.

Patricia Hilkert, director of NSFP, said the holiday offered a lot of free time for those not observing. Many PA groups went into Chicago, sat at the Lakefill and spent time in Evanston, she said.

There will be less free time next year because the program will return to its usual length, but Hilkert said it was an interesting twist for students to explore campus and spend time in Evanston. NSFP is hoping to leave the entire day prior to classes starting free for students to enjoy time on campus next year, she added.

Although Schaefer chose to attend some of the optional programming, he said there was sufficient time to relax due to the Rosh Hashanah break.

“I enjoyed the programs, but it was nice to have a break and not feel pressured to always be doing something and to have more of a laid-back experience,” Schaefer said.

In the future, Schaefer said he recommends NSFP eliminate unnecessary activities to make all of Wildcat Welcome more like the two optional days. Schaefer said he would have valued being able to spend more time with people outside his PA group.

“You’re meeting a lot of people, but it wasn’t always in the most organic ways,” Schaefer said. “It’s nice that you get comfortable with a PA group, but I was looking forward to meeting people in dining halls, in my lounge or in class.”

Although Dickerson enjoyed the two days of optional activities and a break from a hectic schedule, she said the free time opened the door for more students to attend off-campus parties, both during the day and at night.

“Wildcat Welcome is structured in a way to keep students engaged so that they have excuses not to go to some of the off-campus parties that go on that week,” Dickerson said. “The parties and darties were definitely an issue. The schedule opened up more avenues for partying, which is always discouraged.”

The opportunities for students to attend parties during the day provided a big challenge — both during Wildcat Welcome and its aftermath — for administrators, Hilkert said. Administrators knew the free time would pose a problem but do not expect it to be an ongoing issue, she said.

Another big change to Wildcat Welcome this year included the removal of a trip to Millennium Park. For the past two years, Northwestern students went to Chicago for Purple Pride following March Through the Arch, where they learned about NU traditions and Chicago, and bonded with their PA groups for the first time. The event took place at Welsh-Ryan Arena this year because Millennium Park was unavailable.

Hilkert said it was refreshing to do Purple Pride on campus.

“It’s about school spirit and tradition so that made sense to us, and we thought it was a good change,” she said.

For the first time, students also had the opportunity to attend the Field Museum, which was rented out to NU for the evening.

Despite initial fears about how the program would play out, NSFP has received many positive survey results about Wildcat Welcome from students, Hilkert said.

“We’ve gotten so many compliments from parents and family members, more so than ever before,” she said. “We’re excited to see what the rest of the survey data shows.”

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