First-Years Find Friendship, Guidance, and Sweet Treats

Providing the newest Panthers with successful introductions to college life and Plymouth State’s exceptional services are key entry points to the University’s warm and supportive community, and multiple offices and staff members are devoted to the effort. It’s a daily focus of Kyle Hastbacka, interim associate director of the new student experience.

“Students have busy schedules, so outreach and connection take place during convenient times that don’t interrupt academics and other priorities,” says Hastbacka. “One great example of this is our Lunch Buddies program. Orientation leaders, who are students themselves, are available throughout the year to join their peers in routine visits to the dining hall. It’s a simple and effective way for first-years and ‘OLs’ to talk about whatever comes to mind, including introducing opportunities that students might not have learned about otherwise.”

Informal mealtime get-togethers take their place alongside campus-wide extravaganzas that are the product of substantial planning. Bonding with first-year students across the campus is one of the many outcomes of October’s popular “Apple Palooza” event. Residence halls that house first-years host fall-themed activities including an apple-themed photo shoot, and apple cider doughnuts, candied apples, apple crisp, and apple cider are among the plentiful goodies. Participants gather in the HUB Fireplace Lounge for a raffle drawing after having visited other halls and learning about campus resources and clubs along the way.

“Apple Palooza is an opportunity for students to meet the community advisors and directors who staff other residence halls and mingle with fellow students outside of their regular circles,” says Hastbacka. “This year we expanded the event to two days to include a Halloween Double Feature Movie Night on the Mary Lyon Lawn.”

Homecoming Weekend brings many families to campus, and special activities are designed to bring these hundreds of visitors into the mix. One of this year’s many highlights was the well-attended “Mission Improvable” event, during which a professional improv team led attendees in classic games that involved audience participation. “This event was a lot of fun and encouraged students to step outside of their comfort zones and connect with other students,” says Hastbacka. 

Monthly themed bingo nights have also been popular, with a “spooky” session for Halloween and a Nickelodeon night taking place so far this semester.

“The New Student Experience Office has shown on many occasions how to gain the attention of not only first-year students, but also to gain partnerships with other departments that are on campus,” says Ceili Wallace ’21, who is interning with the office this semester. “Within our programming, we’ve built connections and relationships for first-years that encourages their success by having their orientation leaders join them in shared activities.”

Students see orientation leaders as fellow students once Orientation and Panther Days have completed. This builds connections and relationships for students that encourages their success.”

Residential Life plays a particularly important role in welcoming new students. The office’s First-Year Residential Experience (FYRE) enriches student engagement and the transition to college life with special programs, increased access to faculty and University services, and experiences that help students find their personal path at PSU. These additional, community-building activities take place in students’ residence halls, where so much of their PSU experience takes place.

FYRE, now in its fourth year, is continually introducing new ways to meet the needs of the changing student population. A new “House Calls” initiative introduced this fall brought faculty, staff, and administrators throughout the University community into first-year residential communities with the happy assignment of handing out sweet treats and getting to know students through friendly visits. The simple assignments take place on students’ home turf where they feel at ease.

“This is an opportunity for individuals who are not usually in the halls to interact with our students in their setting rather than the normal classroom setting,” says Director of Residential Life and Dining Amanda Grazioso. “As a result of the House Calls program, first-year students have additional connections with PSU faculty and staff.”  

A more purposeful form of House Calls took place later in the semester and provided new students with valuable guidance regarding course registration. “S’MORE” had faculty and staff sharing treats, engaging in conversation that more typically might have been handled by the Registrar’s Office or academic advisors, and connecting with students in their residence hall settings to discuss options for spring sign-up.

“Both House Calls and S’MORE are signature events of FYRE,” notes Grazioso. “FYRE promotes student success by helping to create connections for residential students to peers, faculty and staff, support services, and ultimately the University as a whole.”

Activities and opportunities of special benefit to new students are promoted campus-wide, with special attention to the social media channels that connect students virtually. The @PSU_Orientation Instagram account features a weekly trivia game that has gained traction, with winning students typically arriving within minutes to claim their prize.

All of these efforts help today’s new students network and discover the University’s wide range of resources, while feeling more confident about navigating their no longer so new world of college life. Many of these students will return the favor in future years when they take up positions as campus leaders, eager to share the fun and friendship that are so central to the Plymouth State experience.