Students, parents learn the ropes at New Student Orientation

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After attending New Student Orientation, Lauren Ragland is excited to start her collegiate career at Penn State’s University Park campus this fall. The advising appointment, overnight acclimation to residence halls and the chance to meet other students were highlights of her two-day orientation experience.

“I knew that there were a ton of majors, but I didn’t realize the diversity within the campus,” said Ragland, of McDonald, Pa. “I didn’t expect them to be as open and caring because everyone just kept telling me, ‘You’re going to a school where you’re just a number, not a name,’ but I felt a very personal connection between the people I’ve been speaking with.”

Her mother, Dru Ragland, shared the same sentiment. She was initially concerned about the size of the campus, but her mind was eased after coming to orientation. “These last two days have really put my concerns to rest because it’s very welcoming here,” she said. “Everybody has been so friendly and so helpful. I like the way that they keep the parents connected. They don’t take responsibility away from the students, but we’re support in the background.”

Incoming students and their families start NSO at a welcome session that gives an overview of life at Penn State. They are then split up for sessions tailored to their interests. Students meet with orientation leaders — older Penn State students — and parents and guardians move on to a different session.

Some topics, such as academic success and health, safety and personal responsibility, are covered in sessions for both groups. Other sessions are more specific to each audience. Students learn about technology services on campus and set up their online access accounts, attend an educational planning and preparation session and have an academic consultation. Parents and guardians get an overview of career and internship support services, speak with a panel of current students and join representatives from the Penn State Parents Program, University Libraries and University administration at a welcome reception.

What should I expect when I come to Penn State? NSO Student Orientation Leaders share incoming students' most frequently asked questions.

Michelle Hobson, of Villanova, Pa., recently attended NSO with her son, Pierce — the family’s fifth child to attend Penn State. Her first four sons went through the First-Year Testing, Consulting and Advising Program, or FTCAP, the University’s previous one-day orientation program. Hobson said she has seen a lot of positive changes in NSO, including an emphasis on getting involved outside the classroom.

“I am going to champion that. It was said that the more active students are outside of class, the better time managers they become,” she said. “They encouraged students to find things they are interested in. For me, that was a big revelation.”

Hobson said the information for students and parents was very useful, even for someone who had already been to a few Penn State orientations with other children. “I certainly would recommend taking the time off from work to come up with your student and see the school — which is magnificent,” she said. “It’s definitely worth the time spent.”

Incoming Penn State students and their families are welcomed at their campuses through New Student Orientation while prospective students and their families are invited to Spend a Summer Day at Penn State.

That was the intention when the program was changed last year, said Dan Murphy, director of the Office for Student Orientation and Transition Programs. “The FTCAP program was strong in meeting national orientation standards, but it was missing a few crucial elements,” he said. “We spread the intensity of the one-day program over two days and added in other important aspects.”

In addition to academic counseling and scheduling classes, students also get time to meet other students at NSO LateNight and have opportunities to learn about different student groups at the involvement and engagement session. They also experience life in the residence halls for one night, which includes having a roommate, sharing a bathroom with others and eating in the dining halls.

“Our students report they feel more comfortable when they come back to campus after spending two days in New Student Orientation,” Murphy said.

The NSO experience has been valuable for current students, too. To prepare for the summer orientation sessions, Penn State students chosen to become part of the orientation team took a two-credit course during the spring semester. They also read “Americanah,” the 2014 State Reads common text and had a 50-hour refresher training right before NSO began.

“They’re trained to be Penn State generalists,” Murphy said, adding, “Every family’s bringing in different anxieties. They learn not only to hear the question but also to hear the real question behind the question. Then they help point the family to the resources on campus that they need.”

NSO-Summer14-AJackson-001

Adam Jackson, center, fields questions from parents at a student panel discussion at Penn State's HUB-Robeson Center. Jackson was joined at the New Student Orientation event by fellow Penn State students Kyra Wilkerson, left, and Emily Francis.

Image: Patrick Mansell

Adam Jackson is one of 26 student orientation leaders answering those questions at NSO this year. Beyond being able to identify a person’s specific needs, Jackson said letting students get to know each other and pointing out small details often helps students feel more confortable on campus.

“You get that time when you’re with other students and you can have that experience of talking to them and getting their feedback, which I think is crucial,” he said. “The first time you go to a dining hall, you might not realize how to put your tray away, and it seems silly, but it’s true. The small things make a huge impact once you get up here.”

For Jackson, being in a position to give students and their families a positive first impression of Penn State and to make connections has been rewarding. “Being able to impact someone’s time here, it’s really big,” said Jackson, a senior majoring in mechanical and nuclear engineering from York, Pa. “Being able to be that voice and saying ‘You will find your home here’ is just really cool.”

Last Updated June 27, 2014