New crop of orientation leaders helps new students prepare for college life

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. -- Incoming students at Penn State New Kensington have a wealth of resources at their disposal as they navigate the unpredictable road of the first year of college.

The newcomers can draw upon the experiences of a cadre of upperclassmen, known as Orientation Leaders, who were chosen in May to guide the rookie class through the 2014-15 academic year. Orientation Leaders are among the campus’ most selective students leaders. It is a rigorous process and only the best of the best earn the moniker.

Nominated by faculty and staff, the candidates are interviewed by the Student Affairs committee, headed by Director Theresa Bonk, and chosen on merit. Once chosen, the new leaders go through a rigorous training process designed to improve and shape communication and leadership skills.

Orientation Leaders are part of the campus’ student leadership team that includes Student Government Association officials, Lion Ambassadors, and members and officers of student clubs and committees. Many orientation leaders hold concurrent positions on the boards of the other student organizations.

With student leaders, opportunities to continue to develop their skills are available during each semester. Professional conferences and workshops, such as LeaderQuest and Leader Launch, are held throughout the state to allow students to hone their skills and develop their special talents.

Community service also is one of the primary responsibilities of student leaders. The most successful leaders give back to the campus and to their communities.

Throughout the year, there are numerous opportunities for community service projects. In March, a spring break trip to Washington, D.C., gave students a better understanding of those dealing with economic crisis and housing instability on a daily basis. The volunteers performed a variety of functions at food banks and soup kitchens throughout the nation’s capital and learned about the societal aspects of poverty.

The three-day, New Student Orientation program is the “World Cup” for orientation leaders. A concerted effort by faculty and staff, the program is designed to help New Kensington students successfully transition from high school to college and to ensure that incoming students feel comfortable and welcome in their new surroundings. It gives first-year students the opportunity to examine their academic abilities, interests and educational plans before their first semester of classes. Orientation Leaders provide students with a basic understanding of what will be expected of them at Penn State.

The current group of leaders includes sophomores Alex Pedder (electro-mechanical engineering technology); Erica Bolcato (administration of justice); and Angela Kotvas (nursing). All three drew upon their positive experiences as freshmen at orientation to vie for a leadership position.

“My orientation was very memorable,” said Pedder, a peer tutor in the Academic Learning and Student Success Center. “Many of the friendships that were started at orientation were kept throughout my entire freshman year of college.”

“I loved everything about my orientation and can’t even pick a favorite part,” said Bolcato, who hails from Natrona Heights, Pa.

“It was very beneficial in helping me meet new people and feel less nervous about my first week of college,” said Kovtas, who resides in Plum Borough, Pa.

Orientation is not the only activity that showcases the students’ leadership talents. They are involved in a variety of extra-curricular activities. Pedder is the president of the Outdoor Adventure Club, as well as a member of THON. Bolcato is a tech support assistant in the Computer Center. Kotvas is on the committees of THON and the Campus Activities Board, and a member of the Outdoor Adventure Club.

The orientation sessions are spread out over the three summer months. The first session, called Day One, features five programs, June 19, 24 and 25, Aug. 8 and 11. New students are required to attend one of the sessions where they plan a course schedule, register for fall classes and receive general campus service information. Members of the class of 2018 had praises for their first college experience.

"I really liked it," said Samantha Adams, an incoming information science and technology major. "I pretty much knew what to expect, as I'm a third generation college student."

"I learned a lot about my major," said freshmen Cassie Eckenrod. "I'm so excited to be a part of Penn State as well as a part of THON."

Day Two, Aug. 20, brings together all new students for the campus tradition of orientation prides. Each student is assigned to one of six pride groups that is headed by orientation leader. As a pride, students attend interactive workshops to learn about academic procedures, electronic resources and extracurricular activities. Faculty will lead discussions on the summer reading assignment. Students return the next day, Aug. 21, for the final preparation session before beginning their college careers.

Day Three includes Academic Convocation, Pride Olympics, and meeting faculty and current students in their chosen fields of study. The convocation is a formal ceremony led by Chancellor Kevin Snider. Faculty and staff, replete in their academic robes, officially welcome students to the campus. With the reunion of all six prides, the Olympics gives students the opportunity to compete in a variety of challenges that encourage teamwork and leadership. It also gives the newcomers another opportunity to mingle with fellow freshmen.

“My favorite part of orientation was meeting all of the incoming students as well as participating in the Pride Olympics,” Pedder said.

For more on orientation, visit

(Eric Bennardo, a senior communications major and intern in the Alumni and Public Relations office, conducted the interviews and contributed to the story.)

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Last Updated July 10, 2014