By Jim DeLa
New College of Florida welcomed 178 new students to campus Aug. 17, to begin a week of Orientation events designed to get the newest Novos off to a good start this fall.
Orientation week was a mix of paperwork, networking, learning the New College system, and social activities. Students moved into their residence halls, found their way around campus, met their academic advisers, learned about the local community and got to know each other.
“Orientation went fantastically,” said Director of Student Success Programs Anjali Cadena. “The students seem happy and were not stressed when they asked questions,” adding parents expressed how pleased they were with the program.
Cadena praised the team of Orientation Leaders who helped guide the first-year students through the weeklong process. “They kept projecting high energy, showing great New College pride.”
“Even some faculty told me they were surprised how bonded the new students were already,” she said.
“It’s been a very interesting experience,” said first-year student Irene Hanabergh. “There’s a lot of information, but it’s presented in a very structured manner.”
Hanabergh and her fellow students spent most of one morning last week in a group session with their academic advisers. Hanabergh met with biology professor Elizabeth Leininger. The group asked some basic questions, such as how do you figure out exactly what you want to study? “What New College is all about is figuring out what your passion is,” Leininger said. Get to know the faculty in any particular field of study, she suggested.
Several students expressed concerns about managing both academic and extracurricular pursuits. “It’s a balancing act,” Leininger said. “Sometimes there’s pressure to do a lot. You need to be realistic.” She added that is, in part, what advisers are for. “Be in contact about it. Let’s talk about it.”
Transfer student Issac Mingus, who is interested in biomedical psychology, said he was excited to be starting at New College. He described Orientation as “an immersive experience.” He added the structure was conducive to meeting other students. “It’s helpful for networking right off the bat. It’s a pleasure just walking around with people.”
A resident of Sarasota, he said he has been interested in New College for years. He was attracted by the flexibility the college offers, but thought it would be too small. After attending State College of Florida for two years, he changed his mind. “I’m an independent learner, but there’s value in knowing people, being somewhere where everybody knows your name,” he said.
Hanabergh said she also appreciates the close-knit atmosphere. “My sisters went to the University of Florida, where they had classes with 600 people in them. I didn’t want that.”
Getting the campus physically ready for the influx of people each August is quite an undertaking. It’s what Sheila Foley, New College’s custodial coordinator, calls “the miracle that happens every fall.”
Preparations actually begin the moment students leave campus after Commencement in May. Her crews go into every dorm room, “cleaning out refrigerators, replacing air filters, sanitizing everything,” she explained.
A lot of maintenance and improvements have also been done to residence halls over the summer. Floors have been resealed and polished. Bathtubs in the Pei dorms were re-glazed and sealed, making them easier to clean.
According to Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Mark Stier, a contractor was hired to clean and sanitize the air conditioning units, ductwork, and grills in the Pei dorms to ensure the buildings are mold-free.
As Orientation approached, building exteriors were pressure washed, landscaping was finished and final inspections were made. “This is the most challenging time for Facilities. We have a drop-dead deadline,” Foley said. “The first impression needs to be the best it can be.”
The work paid off. The entire maintenance staff was on duty Aug. 13 when the first-year students moved in. “There were a handful of issues but overall, and especially considering the weather we had, move-in was great,” she said, adding her staff deserves praise throughout the year. “Say ‘thanks’ the next time you see someone,” on her staff, she asked.
For the second straight year, the first-year students had a chance to discuss a topic of interest and concern in the local community. Last year, the Common Challenge was focused on food insecurity. The Challenge for this academic year is homelessness.
A panel of experts led a discussion on the plight on any given night of nearly 1,000 people in Sarasota and Manatee counties. “It could be anybody,” said Valleire Guillory, the founder of Trinity Without Borders, a local nonprofit developing a program to build low-cost housing. She recalled helping a New College student several years ago. “He had no support between semesters,” she said. “He began running around in the nightclub scene,” and other potentially dangerous situations. “We tried to get him into a shelter. My family finally took him in for a summer.”
“It’s not always a tragic beginning,” added Cathy Bryant, who works with the nonprofit Streets of Paradise in Sarasota. “Nobody sets out to be on the streets by themselves.”
Laura Licoski, a local activist, invited students to come see for themselves by volunteering. “I suggest you start somewhere. It doesn’t matter where.”
First-year students were able to participate in a simulation to get a better understanding on what life for economically challenged people can be like. There will be several other volunteer opportunities organized throughout the fall semester available for all students.
As Orientation wrapped up, Cadena’s newly created Office of Student Success Programs was gearing up to keep students engaged and on track. “The first six to eight weeks is a critical time period, where new students begin to bond with their college,” she said. “This is about growing roots here.”
The office, in HCL 5, will be a place where students can hang out and get information and advice on almost anything. Cadena says she wants her office to be what she calls “the first stop” with any issues they may have. “We don’t want them to lose momentum.”
–– Jim DeLa is digital content specialist at New College of Florida.
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