Becoming a Patriot: New Students Discover Mason at Orientation

Posted: June 25, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Dustin Lewis
Patriot Leader Dustin Lewis leads incoming freshmen to the Orientation check-in tables and stands by to answer any questions.

By Catherine Probst

How does one become a Patriot? For new students, the transformation begins at Orientation.

New Patriots can expect to learn about everything from the history of the Mason mascot to the words of the Alma Mater to using Patriot jargon in their everyday language. It takes more than this, however, to flourish and succeed as a Mason Patriot, as incoming students soon learn.

With about 2,400 freshmen and 2,200 transfer students and their families expected this year, the Orientation program introduces Mason’s broad educational opportunities, promotes school spirit and helps students and their families gain a better understanding of their place at Mason.

“One of the primary goals of Orientation is to validate the students’ and families’ choice to attend Mason,” says Chayla Haynes, director of the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services.

Sessions Stress Responsibility

Incoming freshmen make their mark on Mason by signing their names to a Spirit Bench that identifies them as part of the Class of 2011.

The Orientation program has traditionally featured sessions such as the Green and Gold Showcase, where students and parents learn about the resources, services and programs at Mason, and the spirit-rousing Patriot Welcome, where they are greeted with an energizing welcome and win prizes. But this year’s orientation also stresses the responsibilities that come with being a college student.

A new program for incoming students called “The Choice is Yours” educates students about the responsibility and power they possess in their choices regarding alcohol and other drugs. In this session, motivational speaker Chris Skinner shares his “Ultimate Learning Experience,” and “Pure Performance” advocate Dennis O’Sullivan, former NFL player and current vice president of the American Athletic Institute, advises students on the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

A program directed to family members is called “Preparing Our Students for Success: The Influence of Online Communities on Developing Healthy Relationships.” This session provides families with resources to help their students protect themselves when using online communities and networks. Janet Pelasara, the mother of a slain Virginia Commonwealth University freshman, will facilitate this session.

To encourage incoming students to branch out on their own, many family Orientation activities take place concurrently with the student program.

“Separating students from their families empowers the student in their decisions and makes them accountable to the information shared in the process. It gives students an added sense of responsibility,” says Haynes. Family Programs Coordinator Deidra Bailey adds, “It is essentially their stepping-stone into adulthood.”

At the same time, Haynes wants families to develop their own relationship with Mason outside of the one with their student. During Orientation, family program tracks run concurrently with both freshman and transfer Orientation programs, offering a separate “Siblings Corner,” for example, to encourage 8- to 15-year-old siblings to be part of the transition process. In addition, a continuing education session is available to family members who wish to pursue degrees, certifications or professional development at Mason.

Getting Comfortable

According to recent transfer student Ryann Doyle, the Orientation process was intimidating at first. Having transferred from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she was familiar with the area and campus and had many friends, she describes coming to Mason for the first time as feeling like “a very tiny fish in the huge sea.”

Winding her way through Mason’s large campus and seeing buildings that looked alike, Doyle was relieved to have the help of smiling Patriot Leaders who pointed her in the right direction.

After a long afternoon of Orientation activities, new freshmen students socialize and share their experiences of the day.
Creative Services Photos

“Overall, the Orientation experience started out as very scary and intimidating. However, with the help of the Patriot Leaders, the faculty and staff and the kindness of the Mason community, I left Orientation with a new sense of confidence, optimism and belonging,” says Doyle.

For those students who like to hang back during the Orientation process, Patriot Leaders attempt to draw them out with a variety of ice breakers. Some of these events that freshmen most enjoy are Patriot Pizzazz, a kick-off to the registration and advising process, and skits put on by the Patriot Leaders about critical campus life issues.

“We are all about catching the Mason spirit, but there are always those ‘Joe Cools’ who don’t want to get involved,” says Lmya Ahmed, orientation assistant. “These are often the ones who have parents who haven’t experienced a child leaving for college. We really have to work hard to draw [them] out of their shell.”

Breaking Away

On the other hand, some students enjoy the time away from their protective parents. Kady Huff, an incoming freshman from Maine who plans to major in political science, admits she doesn’t have a problem being away from her parents during the Orientation process. She and her twin sister are both heading to college this fall.

“Even though I know my parents are pretty nervous about my sister and I leaving, it’s exciting to get away and try something new. It gives me the opportunity to meet people from around the country and get involved in activities,” says Huff.

Other incoming freshmen, like Richelle Dodds and Sagan Jones, say they are also looking forward to various Orientation activities and being able to socialize with other students. Although Dodds and Jones are both from Virginia, they say the atmosphere at Mason is just what they were looking for.

“Being at the Orientation confirms that I made the right choice about Mason. The Patriot Leaders are eager to make everyone feel welcome and encourage us to get involved,” says Dodds.

According to Haynes, Orientation is no longer exclusively for students because families have just as much influence over the college they choose. She is proud that 82 percent of freshmen and 77 percent of transfer students answered “yes” to last summer’s Orientation evaluation question on whether or not their participation in Orientation validated their choice to attend Mason.

“This type of response helps us to know that we are doing a good job, and that students and families are responding positively to the Orientation process,” says Haynes.

For more information about Orientation, visit the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services web site.

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