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Stetson Glamping: Summer Orientation

Flashback to FOCUS: A Week Full of Fresh Starts and First Impressions
Stetson Glamping: Summer Orientation

Whether it be bonding with your leader, creating connections, or getting acquainted with campus, FOCUS orientation allows incoming students to ease into their first year at Stetson. However, most current students may have a markedly different memory of their orientation compared to the incoming class. As of 2023, Stetson has introduced a new way to welcome future Hatters to campus with the debut of its summer sessions. Our staff had the chance to talk with a few faculty and students involved with summer orientation to get a better idea of how the program’s introduction went.

 

Because this early orientation is a first for Stetson, you may be asking yourself what exactly it is and how it differs from the fall or spring. To help answer this question, our staff spoke with select Student Development and Campus Vibrancy, SDCV, team members who broke down the purpose and schedule of events. The optional orientation was originally divided into four mini-orientations occurring periodically throughout the summer: three in June and one in July. These two-day sections were an introduction to all things Stetson, but unlike the typical fall orientation, students and parents received an invite. “The summer orientation schedule was created in a way that encourages students to create connections with their peers, our faculty and staff, peer mentors, and the rich and vibrant history of our campus community” shared Kristin Graham, Associate Director of First Year Experience and Transitions. Because the events took place over the span of two days as opposed to the usual week-long FOCUS orientation, students and their families were able to get acquainted with the Stetson campus and staff on a smaller, more intimate scale, hopefully getting them even more excited for their official orientation in late August.  

This is for any incoming students so that they are able to come to campus and kind of get a feel and look around Stetson. See what their classroom buildings may look like, or see what being in a dorm may look like” adds Angela Shah, graduate assistant for First Year Experience and Transitions. “We wanted students to know that they are finding a safe place and a safe space on campus, not just with the staff running the orientation, but also with fellow students.” 

With a quick glance at the detailed schedule, it was evident the SDCV team was taking strides to cultivate the best experience possible for students and guests. The first day was set up to introduce students to one another, important members of the campus community, and their academic college. Crystal Baroni, Coordinator for Student Organization Advising and Programming, notes that the team “worked on making a welcoming and vibrant environment by decorating the spaces with balloons” and other miscellaneous informative decorations as a backdrop for directing and welcoming families the first day. The team, alongside FOCUS leaders, summer fellows, and volunteers from Campus Life and Student Success, prioritized mingling with students and guests to connect them with one another and make them more comfortable in their soon-to-be-home. 

Following the initial check-in and welcome, students and their guests attended breakout sessions. Students had the opportunity to bond with their peers and summer fellows, diving into the Stetson experience and their “goals and dreams as college students” according to the schedule. Meanwhile, guests of students were introduced to the Dean of Students to learn about the best ways to support their Hatter in the upcoming year. The groups then came back together for informative meet-ups with the incoming student’s intended field of study, followed by the official departure of the families for the evening. The remaining students that opted to stay for the overnight experience were invited to a student dinner and pool party celebration. “We had music, lights, Jeremiah’s ice, games, Stetson towels, and pool floats available to enjoy,” Crystal mentions. Each SDCV member agrees on how essential the pool party was because it allowed students to freely socialize and discuss their days in a more relaxed setting for the first time during the orientation. Afterward, students were invited to stay overnight in Nemec Hall with more games and treats to ease them into their first dorm experience. “It can be very scary to move out of your place, and even as a commuter student, it can be very difficult because you might not know how to find community when you’re not living on campus,” adds Anglea. “So even for students that don’t do the overnight experience and are just coming for the day, they go back home to their families but can see that they’re able to bond with other individuals,” she continues. 

After the first night, students were offered breakfast before reuniting with their guests the next day to learn about academic advising and resources in an interactive session. Day two of orientation centers around the “opportunity to finish up any campus business” and “enjoy breakout sessions on important topics or further explore our campus community,” says Kristen.  Once the day hits early afternoon, summer orientation comes to a close with a final celebration that includes “a photo booth, a banner for all of the incoming first years to sign that will be hung on the CUB when they come in the fall, and Whit’s ice cream handed out from their cute little ice cream cart,” Crystal says. “We could see the students finding ‘their people’ which in my opinion is my very favorite thing, as well as watching people find their home here at Stetson,” concludes Crystal. Kristin agrees, adding, “It was rewarding as a staff member to see our participants making friends, creating plans for the fall semester, and looking more comfortable in their new surroundings.” 

As the faculty reflected on the summer’s success, Stetson students seemed to have shared the sentiment. Kylah Collins, a fourth-year Stetson student and summer fellow, walked our staff through her day-to-day orientation and personal favorite memories from each session. “Summer orientation is really a good opportunity for students to see what Focus Week is going to be like,” Kylah begins, “and we have so much to offer that is not known until you actually experience it, which is really what I try to focus on when I talk to parents and students.” 

As a summer fellow, Kylah received room and board at Stetson during orientation season and got to meet most of the students and guests that attended. On the first day of each orientation, one of her first jobs is to help lead the breakout sessions with the students, acting as the first friendly face many of the incoming class meet. “We like to talk to them about what they’re worried about. Usually, we have them write letters to themselves and do icebreakers. At first, it can be a bit corny, but once you break them out of their shell and get them going, the students really seem to build those connections and be a bit more open,” Kylah says. “We even did this one activity where I had them all write one thing they were worried about about coming to Stetson in the fall. Then I collected all the cards and redistributed them. I had everybody read what was on their new card just to show them that everybody coming in as a freshman at Stetson is worried about the same things,” she continues. 

She notes how crucial it is for students to feel comfortable not only with her but also with one another. Similar to the SDCV team, she mentions what a breakthrough the pool party idea was, noting that “Originally, we were scared, because sometimes high schoolers can be a bit awkward and you never know what’s gonna happen, but I really felt like I got to talk to a lot of people from different perspectives.” As a member of Greek life and other campus organizations herself, Kylah thought that the pool party celebration offered a great, relaxed opportunity to open up with students and learn more about their interests. She felt energized that she could share things about her personal Stetson experience that connected with different people, getting them excited to come back to campus in the fall, and even getting her excited to have made new friends as well. “I’m excited to have them on campus,” she adds, “you know, have them say hello to me and I will say hi back.” 

Getting to know the students was not the only highlight for summer fellows and students like Kylah. She goes on to say, “I thought the inclusion of parents was really valuable, because sometimes parents are really left out of the conversation and don’t know what’s going on. For me, I remember when I was starting to apply and get ready to go to Stetson, people were on the phone with me and my mom. It was the recruitment counselor, the financial aid advisor, and my mom sitting right next to me on the phone with them talking,” she continues, “We want the parents to be involved and see what’s going on; it is a big thing.”  

The conversations with the SDCV team and students like Kylah demonstrate just how groundbreaking the inclusion of summer orientation was and will continue to be. Coming off COVID, lockdown, and virtual learning that has been prevalent in the past few years, it becomes evident how essential it is for students to create and cultivate campus connections. Introducing summer orientation allowed Stetson to capitalize on an aspect that makes it a unique university in the first place: its personability. As a smaller, private collection of colleges, Stetson prides itself on its commitment to individualized learning and maintaining its tight-knit community. The implementation of things like summer orientation is what rouses students to visit campus and see themselves there. Kylah hopes that her sentiments will resonate with future Stetson students when she said, “I want to go to this school. I want to have this experience. I feel this community here.”

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