The 50 student summer orientation leaders at the University of Virginia showed tons of Wahoo spirit as they gathered groups of incoming first-year students for activities on the Lawn Thursday morning. They easily switched to serious academic-advising mode in the afternoon as they fielded a range of questions from slightly anxious incoming first-years learning how to register for classes.
“If I placed out of Chemistry 1140, can I take ‘Organic Chemistry’?” one young woman asked.
Leslie Smith, a rising third-year orientation leader majoring in English, answered in the affirmative, adding that students don’t apply to the McIntire School of Commerce until the end of their second year.
After opening the two-day session with a meeting in Old Cabell Hall auditorium – which concluded with singing the “Good Ol’ Song” together for the first of many, many times during their college careers – the orientation leaders headed outdoors and fanned out around the statue of Homer on the lower Lawn, holding aloft colorful signs bearing their names so the new students could find them. The leaders then led their assigned groups of students in a few rounds of ice-breaker games before and after lunch in Newcomb Hall.
About 700 first-year students in the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Curry School of Education attended the summer orientation session, the fourth of seven held in July. One more will be offered Aug. 20-22 – just before the fall semester’s move-in day – for international and some transfer students.
Students participated in several more activities to get to know their classmates and the orientation leaders better that evening. The second day, they registered for U.Va. emergency text messaging and picked up student ID cards. There were optional tours of the Grounds, visits to libraries, browsing a resource fair and more.
Meanwhile, parents and guests attended a parallel program that provides information and discussion about various University resources.
Back on the Lawn, orientation leader Elizabeth Surratt, heading into her second year, stood in the middle of a circle of new students, said her name and something about herself. If any other students shared the same thing, they had to switch places in the circle, but one would be left out, as in musical chairs. That person went into the middle next to start another round.
Surratt said when she attended her summer orientation last year, the leaders looked like they were having so much fun, she wanted to join the crew. She hasn’t been disappointed this summer.
“The orientation leaders continue to serve the University well in the way they help to ease in the transition of the incoming class,” said Tabitha A. Enoch, director of orientation and new student programs. “They demonstrate a terrific blend of likability and capability which makes them so relatable to the first-year students who are soon to be their peers. The days are long, the mornings are early, but the work is certainly rewarding.”
Many students already had some familiarity with U.Va. before applying and being accepted. Peter, from Midlothian, said his sister graduated last year. An Echols Scholar, he said the Commerce School was a big draw for him.
“I always wanted to come here,” he said. “When I visited, I liked the atmosphere – it’s really friendly and also academic. At some schools, it’s either-or.”
Some were drawn to the Curry School’s new kinesiology major. A student named Kassandra said she’d had sports injuries in high school and became interested in how she could help others who go through that.
Priyanka, from Atlanta, was drawn to the pre-med program and Health Sciences Center here, she said. Besides her introductory chemistry and biology courses, she said she’s particularly looking forward to an “Ethics of Medicine” course.
Thursday afternoon was devoted to workshops on course selection in advance of individual registration on Friday. Academic deans Sandra Seidel, who teaches biology, and Kirt von Daacke, who teaches history, explained the enrollment process and encouraged the students to seek help from different people – to “collect as many advisers as you can,” von Daacke said.
In addition to their assigned association deans and faculty advisers, students can also turn to departmental directors of undergraduate studies when they’re considering their choice of a major, and can find others for assistance, as well, such as resident advisers, professors teaching their classes and administrators in offices such as the Dean of Students, University Career Services or the International Studies Office.
Von Daacke urged the students to remember course enrollment is really a two-month process and asked the students to choose as many as 25 courses, four of which they would register for to get a head start on enrolling for the normal load of 15 credits. They tried out different combinations to come up with a course schedule where the days and times of the classes would fit. Like all students, the first-years will have from Aug. 1 until Sept. 9 and 10 to add and drop classes as they settle into the semester.
“Relax. Be flexible. Have fun,” Seidel said.
“The orientation leaders were really helpful,” said Kyle from Williamsburg, who plans to pursue a B.A. in computer science. Working on his schedule, he juggled courses to avoid time conflicts. “It helped having picked the extra courses. I’ve got a good schedule so far.”