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Office of student affairs rolls out changes to freshmen orientation program

| Thursday, August 20, 2015

This time each year, campus receives about 2,000 recent high school graduates from across the United States and the world, eager to begin their new lives as college students at the University of Notre Dame.

As in years past, Notre Dame will host a variety of activities and programming throughout the weekend to help students acclimate to their new environment. But new this year, the Division of Student Affairs and First Year of Studies (FYS) has rechristened the weekend formerly known as “Frosh-O” to “Welcome Weekend.”

“This weekend is about welcoming students to campus, making them feel at home, making them know where they’re going to get their food, who their roommate is, that they’ll have friends, that life will be o.k. and to welcome them to the Notre Dame family – spiritually, physically, academically,” Elly Brenner, assistant dean of FYS, said.

Welcome Weekend ScheduleSusan Zhu | The Observer

Brenner, who sat on the oversight committee responsible for redesigning freshman orientation weekend, said the weekend’s new format will streamline the process of introducing students to the Notre Dame community without overwhelming them with unnecessary information.

Many of the weekend’s activities are the same as or similar to previous years because the committee wanted to preserve meaningful campus traditions, Brenner said. However, she said students will spend less time than before sitting and listening to long speeches from a “talking head.”

“We’re doing a trip to the grotto, we have Mass … but we’re not getting down into the really deep weeds of if you want to go study abroad, do you need your immunizations?” Brenner said. “The parents need that information, the students don’t.”

In addition to the first year mass and grotto trip, other Welcome Weekend activities include a campus-wide welcome from University President Fr. John Jenkins followed by a cook out, the launch of the Moreau First Year Experience Course, a dance party/festival known as “DomerFest” and a variety of optional events occurring all weekend, according to information provided on the new Welcome Weekend mobile app.

Brenner said the timing of Fr. Jenkins’s welcome address to freshmen is a significant change to Welcome Weekend programming.

“Fr. Jenkins will be welcoming everyone to the university on Friday night, whereas it used to be Saturday around lunchtime,” Brenner said. “Somewhat like [how] Commencement is the last thing that students do here on campus, this will be the first thing that they do here, before anything else.”

Paul Manrique, program director of New Student Engagement in the Division of Student Affairs, said the agenda for the weekend was designed to incorporate the best elements from previous years while also introducing new programming intended to ensure “that every student is feeling the same sort of welcome when they get to campus.”

Beyond standardizing the experience of first years upon arriving to campus, the restructured weekend will also highlight the fundamental characteristics of a Notre Dame education, Manrique said.

“One of the big things that we’re trying to push this year is that when you have a student leave Notre Dame, [we] want them to be able to articulate, ‘these are the talking points for what I experienced from a Holy Cross education,’” Manrique said.

He said one of the weekend’s particular points of emphasis is Notre Dame’s strong academic tradition.

Saturday morning, freshmen will meet with their instructors for the first class of the Moreau First Year Experience Course, and according to Manrique, the course, which is new for the 2015-16 academic year, will continue the orientation process after Welcome Weekend.

“It’s tough to say that a student who’s 17 or 18 coming from high school to campus can be oriented to college life over the course of four days,” he said. “But what we hope to do with that Moreau First Year Experience Course is give them the opportunity to extend that orientation throughout the entirety of one year.”

One facet of orientation weekend that remains nearly unchanged is the variety of activities and traditions students participate in through their residence halls.

“The format that we’re going for within the hall is pretty much the same, there’s just a few small changes, but overall it’s going to be the same look and feel as Frosh-O used to be, only now it’s the new name — or the new brand if you will — of Welcome Weekend,” Ned Vogel, Welcome Weekend captain for St. Edward’s Hall, said.

Melaina LaSalle, captain for Breen-Phillips Hall, said each hall has a strong sense of spirit and dorm pride, which helps incoming students feel at home within a few days of arriving to campus.

“We have all these events with other dorms that the Welcome Weekend captains are in charge of planning, and that covers building relationships among upcoming student body,” she said. “I think that’s the best way to really welcome someone is the community, is making sure that they really feel comfortable and that they have friends and that they see that they’re going to build some really strong relationships in the four years that they’re there.”

LaSalle said that more important than the weekend’s line-up of events to making new students feel welcome in their new environment is the tight-knit community within the residence halls and across campus.

“Notre Dame kids are all so great and all so welcoming,” she said. “Honestly, just reach out to anyone and most likely they will be willing to help. And I think that’s something that is really comforting.

“That’s something I figured out my first week at Notre Dame was that the people take away any nervousness you might have right away because they are all so helpful. And it’s also good to be helpful back because it just really builds the community factor.”

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