University of Minnesota
September 4, 2009
Students formed a giant "M" on the field of the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium during Welcome Week 2009.
Photo: Patrick O'Leary
U's expanded Welcome Week helps first-year students make connections
By Rick Moore
For anyone under the impression that the University of Minnesota is a huge and impersonal place where freshmen get swallowed up on the first day of classes, think again. Well, the U is still a big place, but an expanded Welcome Week program has made great strides in making sure students feel well adjusted and connected by the time September 8 rolls around.
Welcome Week is an action-packed set of activities on and off campus designed to complement orientation and give incoming first-year students opportunities to enhance their academic, as well as personal, success.
“We designed Welcome Week to help students continue their transition to the University of Minnesota—connecting them with people (other students, faculty, and student service providers) as well as helping them learn about our resources,” says Beth Lingren Clark, director of the Office of Orientation and First-Year Programs. It’s also meant to “ease their anxieties about starting their first day of class so that they feel comfortable here.”
The "Pride & Spirit" session at the football stadium included students venturing down on the field to form a giant "M."
Watch the making of the "M" video.
The program has a detailed and very intentional format that utilizes student development and learning outcomes, she says. The first day is about getting settled; Day 2 includes Convocation and a breakdown by colleges; Day 3 has sessions to help students navigate resources; and the weekend is devoted to a combination of community exploration and community service.
The topics for the Day 3 sessions can be particularly useful to students. Some examples are money management, health and wellness, careers, and diversity.
“I go to a school that has the power to rent out the Mall of America’s ‘Nickelodeon Universe.’ And we have enough freshmen to fill up the place!”
And there are copious amounts of fun and lively activities interspersed throughout the week, especially in the evenings. On September 2, students made a late-night run to Target to get last-minute school supplies and snacks for the week. The following evening offered a “Pride & Spirit” session at the football stadium, during which students went down on the field to form a giant “M.” The traditional “Gophers After Dark” event kicks off on the evening of September 4. And on Saturday, for a second straight year, students have the option of going to the Mall of America for an evening of amusement. (The alternate choice is the Minnesota State Fair.)
It was during Welcome Week at the Mall of America (MOA) last year that second-year student Stephanie Hornung knew she had made the right choice in attending the University of Minnesota.
She thought to herself, “I go to a school that has the power to rent out the Mall of America's 'Nickelodeon Universe,'" she smiles. "And we have enough freshmen to fill up the place!"
Hornung volunteered to be a Welcome Week leader this year, and on Tuesday was looking forward to her role in helping commuter students with their adjustment. “I feel like it makes a big difference what kind of leader you have,” she says. “I am excited to be here.”
Her favorite part of Welcome Week last year came at the MOA event. “This girl walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, I don’t know anyone; can I stand next to you so I don’t look alone?’” she says. They wound up exchanging numbers, hanging out, and becoming fast friends.
“That’s kind of how I met some of my best friends,” adds Maddy Wunrow, another second-year student who, like Hornung, will be working with commuter students. As a prospective teacher, she appreciates the leadership qualities she’s developing as a Welcome Week leader, as well as her ever-expanding circle of friends. “I’ve probably met 100 new people this week,” she says.
Lingren Clark notes that while other universities have similar Welcome Week–type programs, some are taking interest in “the intentionality of each day” in the University of Minnesota’s model, which is based on utilizing student development and learning outcomes. The U is also dedicated to measuring how students feel about each component of the program, she says, and has made several changes to last year’s format.
She was particularly heartened by the comfort level and excitement she noted in students at Thursday’s Convocation. They cheered when the University of Minnesota Marching Band appeared, and at one point broke out into college-based chants: “C-B-S! C-B-S!” And “Who are we? ... I-T!”
Says Lingren Clark: “I’ve never seen anything like that since I’ve been here.”