New Kensington orientation leaders committed to helping new students

William A. Woodard Jr.
August 05, 2015

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. -- First-year students at Penn State New Kensington have a wealth of resources at their disposal as they take the helm of their academic careers and navigate the mercurial seas of the inaugural year of college.

The newcomers can draw upon the experiences of a crew of upperclassmen, known as Orientation Leaders, who were chosen to guide the class of 2019 through their first academic year. Orientation Leaders are among the campus’ most selective student leaders. The selection process is a rigorous one, and only the best of the best earn the moniker.

The 2015 Orientation Leaders are Erica Bolcato, Jake Boney, Millie Barta De Brasser, Bill Carney, Tyler Delancey, Brianna Delle Donne, Kayla Dowling, Ariel Festa, Laura Gensamer, Trevor Guercio, Lynsie Headley, R.J. Hines, Shannon Josefoski, Wati Kumwenda, Ben Lesko, Anthony Maiolo, Leonard Morris, Alain Niyibizi, Jadyn Perry, Cody Shoemaker, Zac Smith and Zack Wolford.

The three-day New Student Orientation program is the Super Bowl 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 unfamiliar 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.

Returning leaders

Three veteran campus orientation leaders -- Jadyn Perry (Burrell High School), a junior elementary education major; Kayla Dowling (Hempfield Area), a senior agricultural sciences major; and Zack Wolford (Burrell), a junior marketing major -- steered this year’s newbies through the orientation program. What is atypical about the trio is that they won’t be on campus in the fall to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Perry and Wolford are heading to Penn State University Park, and Dowling is moving on to Penn State Erie: The Behrend College to finish their bachelor’s degree studies. They served as orientation leaders a year ago and felt so strongly about the importance of the program that they volunteered for a final “lame duck” session.

“Orientation is a time where you get to meet new people and help them feel comfortable around campus before actually starting classes,” said Perry, who earned Provost and Chancellor scholarships at the campus. “Normally, students have an easier time relating to students who have been in their shoes recently, instead of a staff member.”

When not helping fellow students, Perry co-chaired the campus THON committee, which raised $28,000, the fourth highest in campus history. Formally known as the Penn State Interfraternity Council/ Panhellenic Dance Marathon, THON is a 46-hour, no-sitting, no-sleeping marathon that raises money for the Four Diamonds Fund at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and the fight against pediatric cancer.

Wolford also was active in THON and served as a committee captain. He organized a spaghetti dinner in the fall that raised $1,200 toward the campus total. He stayed on as an orientation leader to be a resource for students who will be transitioning to University Park in two years.

“Even though I will not be at the New Kensington campus in the fall, I felt that I could be a good asset to the freshmen as a leader,” said Wolford, a native of Lower Burell. “I also thought it would be good to give advice as a 2+2 student.”

Penn State's 2+2 program enables students to take two years of foundation courses at New Kensington or another Penn State campus and then transition to University Park to complete the degree program. It's the most common path to a Penn State degree as approximately 60 percent of students choose the program each year. All three orientation leaders are in the 2+2 program.

What drove all three students to one last hurrah as orientation leadership was their sense of commitment to the orientation process. They thought it was important to make the students feel welcome as soon as they step through the doors of the campus. Dowling also had an ulterior motive: she didn’t want to leave the campus.

"I like the campus and just want to stay here,” Dowling said with a laugh. “If I had planned better, I would have gone to Behrend last semester and finished my gen ed (general education) credits here this year. However, I will come back to New Kensington to graduate in May. This is my campus.”

Dowling, a native of Greensburg, was the personification of extracurricular activities. She was a member of the Student Government Association, Lion Ambassadors, Campus Activities Board and, of course, THON. (Participating in THON, seems to be a common thread among orientation leaders.)

First-time orientation leader

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, such as THON. Many orientation leaders hold concurrent positions on the boards of the other student organizations.

First-time orientation leader Shannon Josefoski (Highlands), a sophomore in the business program, holds a variety of campus leadership positions. A transfer student from Slippery Rock University, she is the new co-chair for THON and a member of the activities board. She chose to matriculate at the New Kensington campus due to the numerous options both in and outside the classroom.

“I loved that there were opportunities for me to get involved on campus, and of course, the amazing academic opportunities that Penn State has to offer,” said Josefoski, a member of the campus co-ed cheerleading squad. "One of the big selling points of the New Kensington campus was I got to have the Penn State experience with the smaller class sizes and one-on-one focus.”

Orientation leader was the next logical step for the Natrona Heights resident. She worked with Perry, Dowling and Wolford at the July 28 orientation program.

“As a transfer student, I did not go through the traditional Penn State orientation, so this is my first experience of what it really is like and I loved it,” Josefoski said. “I had the chance to be part of the bonding experience that all orientation leaders have experienced.”

Leadership opportunities

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

Josefoski boosted her leadership credentials in the fall at Leader Launch. A Penn State initiative, Leader Launch provides a professional conference for students seeking jobs and internships. The conference is designed to enhance their knowledge of transferable skills, networking and professionalism.

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 community service projects available to all students. Last year, Dowling and Wolford participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. They worked at a community center in Sharon, Pennsylvania.

Pride Days

The next orientation sessions -- Prides Day, Aug. 19 and All Prides Day, Aug. 20 -- are set for the week before classes begin. Prides Day brings together all new students for the campus tradition of orientation prides. Each student is assigned to one of six pride groups, headed by two or three orientation leaders. 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.

All Prides Day is the final preparation session for new students before they begin their college careers. Activities include 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 the previous day’s 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 and make new friends.

“Our orientation leaders come from very different backgrounds,” Perry said. “We are an extremely diverse group, and that helps us relate to most, if not all, of the new students. If the new students feel like they are a part of the campus, they will want to be more involved, and that starts from cluing them in on all the things that the campus has to offer from the very first orientation day.”

For more on orientation, visit http://www.nk.psu.edu/StudentLife/nso.htm.

  • Orientation leaders and students

    Penn State New Kensington orientation leader Zack Wolford helps incoming students with their educational planners during Day One of New Student Orientation.

    IMAGE: Bill Woodard

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Last Updated August 05, 2015