Orientation Prepares New Patriots for Success

Posted: July 6, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: July 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm

By Catherine Ferraro


Posing with the George Mason statue is an irresistible tradition at the university. Creative Services photo

Throughout the summer, a steady stream of newcomers — incoming freshmen, transfer students and their families — will make their way to Mason’s Fairfax Campus to attend orientation and learn all about becoming a Patriot.

The time they spend on campus will prepare incoming students for a new chapter in their lives as part of the Mason community. During orientation, students and their families will have opportunities to ask questions, get involved, get acquainted with fellow students and faculty members, and learn about the academic and personal resources available at the university.

“The main goal of the orientation program is for students to be prepared for academic and social success when they return to Mason in the fall,” says Doug Little, director of the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services (OFPS).

“In addition, we also want students and their families to learn about the history and traditions of the Mason community.”

Something Old, Something New

Traditionally, orientation offers programs such as the Green and Gold Showcase, which provides new students and their families an opportunity to informally interact with Mason staff and learn about the university’s services. At the First Year Fiesta, students are invited to unwind and get to know fellow students and the Patriot Leader Team.

This year,  orientation  energizes students and their families in a new program called “G…M…U…What?” It is here that newcomers learn Mason traditions and cheers from athletics, alumni, student government and OFPS representatives.

Always a favorite is the “Patriot Leaders LIVE!” session where current students present skits they’ve written and directed on university services, transition issues and how to achieve  success inside and outside of the classroom.

A new skit this year is titled “I’m on a Shuttle” and is set to the tune of the popular song “I’m on a Boat” by the Lonely Island. This skit helps students learn about Mason transportation in an entertaining way.

Another new program for parents and family members called “You’ve Got Questions: We’ve Got Answers” features personal stories of current Mason students and university departments. During this session, parents’ questions will be answered and they will explore university resources and services in a panel discussion format.

“It’s important that students and their families attend different sessions throughout the day to give students a little taste of freedom,” says Elan Cameron, a Patriot Leader. “It’s good for students to have a little guidance and direction from their parents, but they also need to learn how to be independent, and their parents need to let them be independent.”

According to Little, the real transformation, when newcomers start becoming Mason students, happens during academic meetings with the schools and colleges within the university. This is the time when the new students meet with advisors, learn about Mason’s rich curriculum and select courses for their first semester.

The Transition Begins

While orientation is an exciting time, students and their families also begin confronting the transition that is only weeks away.

For incoming freshmen Roxanna Rodriguez and Rosa Roque, being alone was one of their biggest fears. In a sea of so many new students, they hoped to find a familiar face. They got to know one another through a mutual friend also attending orientation.

“In the days leading up to orientation, I was pretty nervous about it because I didn’t know what to expect,” says Rodriguez. “But the Patriot Leaders have been so energetic and helpful that I’m much more comfortable and have met some really great people.”

Cameron and other Patriot Leaders can fully empathize with the new students.

She remembers her own orientation just a year ago and so attempts to reach out to students who might not want to be involved. She tries to coax them into participating in icebreakers and discussions, but also lets them know that she can relate to how they’re feeling.

“It’s a really scary time for many students because they are used to having their parents with them every step of the way,” says Cameron. “I encourage students to get involved in as many activities and groups as they can. And I tell the parents that, at this point, they’ve done the best they can and have to trust their son or daughter to make the right decisions.”

Cameron recommends nervous parents to attend the session titled “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Or Is It?” which will provide them with tips and suggestions on the transition.

In addition, many parents find the “Dean’s Dialogue” session helpful because representatives from the Dean of Students Office provide an overview of university and federal policies that pertain to students and their families.

For more information about orientation, visit the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services web site. Watch the YouTube video here.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu