EMS freshmen bond in nature, overcome jitters through orientation program

August 22, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Everyone has heard of — or experienced — the freshman jitters. But throw in campfires and s’mores, boating and swimming, cooking challenges and scavenger hunts, add faculty, staff, upperclassmen and alumni to the mix and you have a freshmen orientation experience designed to overcome those jitters — the Total Orientation Trip for Earth and Mineral Sciences. Otherwise known as TOTEMS, it is a three-day orientation program for first-year students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS).

The 2014 TOTEMS adventure began Tuesday morning (Aug. 19) when more than 30 faculty, staff and upperclassmen sporting bright red T-shirts met the college's first-year students and their families outside their assigned residence halls. Breaking the ice with smiles and welcomes, they rolled up their sleeves and helped unload family vehicles and assist with the move-in process.

TOTEMS move-in to dorms

From left to right, two TOTEMS student mentors; William Easterling, dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and William Syrett, new student orientation adviser in the Department of Meteorology; help freshman Zachary Black and his family move into Irvin Hall.

IMAGE: Patricia Craig

After move-in, the students and their families shared a lunch with the TOTEMS volunteers. Anxious parents started to relax, confident their progeny were in good hands. After one and all had their fill of pulled pork, hamburgers and other comfort food, the big blue busses pulled in, ready to transport the students to Lake Raystown, a nearby recreation area. Tearful but proud moms and dads bid farewell as the students waved goodbye, ready to embark on the next chapter of their lives

Families wave goodbye to students

Parents and families wave goodbye as first-year students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences depart to Lake Raystown for three days of new friends and great experiences.

IMAGE: Patricia Craig

At Lake Raystown the students spent the next three days bonding with fellow first-year students, networking with current students, faculty and alumni, and forging supportive relationships that will help carry them through their Penn State experience.

TOTEMS games

Everleigh Stokes (center), geography senior and TOTEMS student mentor, participates in an engagement activity with faculty, staff, students and President Barron.

IMAGE: Patricia Craig

Eric Barron, former dean of EMS and now president of the University, created TOTEMS in 2003 with the goal of making new EMS students feel welcome by imparting a sense of belonging and engagement from the start.

“The idea for TOTEMS started when I was taking my daughter to look at small liberal arts colleges. One college’s orientation included the opportunity for freshmen to take a trip to one of a few different locations, based on their interests — joining like-minded students. I thought, since EMS is the size of a small liberal arts college, we should take the students someplace where they could get to know each other. My family had always enjoyed Raystown Lake, so we went to look at the cabins and were sold on the idea,” said Barron.

William Easterling, current dean of EMS has continued the TOTEMS tradition started by Barron. “The key to a successful college experience starts with building a sense of community and network of support,” said Easterling. “TOTEMS is designed to provide a supportive and informative environment that connects first-year students to faculty, staff and current EMS students. The goal is to help build connections that will enable the students to have the best college experience possible. And it’s a lot of fun."

TOTEMS eating dinner

The Total Orientation Trip for Earth and Mineral Sciences (TOTEMS) first-year students prepared and served the evening meal to faculty, staff, and student mentors. Happy diners are (clockwise left to right) Eric Barron, president of the University, and his wife Molly, Nels Shirer, associate dean of undergraduate education, John Hellmann, associate dean of graduate education and research, Cynthia Brewer, department head in geography, Jon Nese, associate head for undergraduate programs in meteorology, and William Easterling, dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

IMAGE: Patricia Craig

TOTEMS also gives faculty and staff from all five EMS departments an opportunity to show new students just how dedicated they are to making students feel comfortable and welcome. The college’s administration also gets involved and this year’s participants included the dean, all three associate deans, two department heads and one associate department head, three department associate heads for undergraduate programs and academic advisers.


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 22, 2014