[Fresh] Orientation interview

Kelly Eastland (kelly.eastland@villanova.edu)
Thu, 09 Sep 2004 14:03:44 -0400

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Our first interview is with Ms. Kelly Eastland, Director of New Student Orientation.

Fresh@news. You have just finished the four-day orientation program for the class of
2008. How did it go?

Ms. Kelly Eastland. We were very pleased with this year’s Orientation program. Of course,
there were the usual glitches and emergencies, but by the end of the four days, however, I
really felt that the class had come together, ready to meet the challenges of the next four
years. Despite the rainy weather on opening day, the weekend turned out to be a great

Fresh@news. What were some of the highlights?

K.E. For me, one of the highlights is the difference that we see over the four days. It
was very moving to see the students and their parents saying good-bye on the first day.
While all of the students were excited, I also saw a lot of apprehension and nervousness as
well. Then four days later, we end with the commissioning ceremony, where Fr. Dobbin, our
University President, officially welcomes the class. As I looked around the pavilion, what
I saw was a large number of those same, rather apprehensive students of four days ago, who
were thinking to themselves, "I am ready for four years of college. I am settled into my
room, I have a great group of friends, if I have problems, I know where to turn. I can do

Fresh@News. Any other highlights you want to mention?

K.E. There are a few. Another great moment of our final evening was a speech to the whole
class by Mr. Dick Jackman, former professor of the Communication Department. I was
fortunate enough to have Professor Jackman as a teacher when I was a student at Villanova so
I knew what to expect. He is a terrific speaker, as wise as he is funny. One of the things
he said was, "If you take up cross-country skiing, start with a small country." Then he
explained that what he meant was that the students should start by re-examining their own
lives, then building out from there to accomplish their dreams.

One of the most successful activities this year was the Monday night entertainment,
“Orientation Olympic Village,” where there were a number of international themed activities
happening. The entertainment included an outdoor viewing of the Olympic coverage, a band,
casino night, and a roving magician. Dining Services put together an international food
festival, which consisted of non-alcoholic frozen drinks, sushi, fish and chips, gyros, pork
friend rice, and hotdogs! Overall it was a great opportunity for students to mingle and get
to know one another.

Fresh@News. So how does it work? How do we help those nervous young people on Saturday
become the confident new students of Tuesday night?

K.E. New student orientation is really about four things. On the one hand, we try to deal
with some of the concerns and questions that the students have. Second, we try to introduce
them to the services that will be supporting them. Third we create a peer support group for
them, and, fourth, we give them an older student who can act as a mentor and as a guide.

Fresh@News. Lets talk about some of those elements. What are some of the concerns and

K.E. You might think that the primary concern of a new student would be the academic work,
and in the next few weeks that is going to be a big issue for these students. But during
the first days of college, the concerns are more basic: where will I sleep? what will I eat,
and with whom? who will my friends be? Remember, many of our students have never lived
away from home (except for maybe a week or two at a camp), and, indeed, many have never
shared a room on a regular basis. Now they are living miles from their homes (indeed many
of our students are from overseas), sharing a room with a complete stranger from a different
place with a different background. Many issues come up, and we try to address them. For an
overview of the four-day program, parents can consult our web site at

Fresh@News. You mentioned helping the students connect to services. Can you say a bit more
about that?

K.E. We really run the students all over campus, introducing them to the many support
functions here at Villanova. One of the most important functions is that they start to get
introduced to the faculty. There is a session with the academic advisers, where students
can establish a relationship with the adviser and work out scheduling problems. Each
orientation group also has an informal session with a faculty member, where they discuss
academic life and expectations. This is a good chance for the new students to meet a
faculty member outside of class, and start to know what college professors are like.

We also spend a lot of time just getting students familiar with the mechanics of daily
living. One big first step is what we call the Wildcard. This plastic card (which actually
has a computer chip right on the card itself) serves as a meal card, a building key, a
library card, and, for many students, a banking system. Another big priority is e-mail and
computer issues. Our students come to Villanova very computer savvy, and e-mail is their
link to the world, so it is really important for a student to get connected to the
Internet. We also want students to know some of the resources that we hope they won't need
right away, like Public Safety and the Health Center. We cover a lot in the four days: we
don't expect them to remember it all, but it will at least let them know where to go if they
do have problems. Orientation isn't all work either. We always have some fun entertainment
for the students.

Fresh@News. You also mentioned the importance establishing a group of friends?

K.E. We find that our students form very close relationships in freshman year with roommates
and people who live on the same hall. These relationships are very important, and often
enough some of these students will stay together as friends and roommates throughout the
four years. But, just as in any other group, the community in the residence hall can have
its own problems and tensions. One of the strengths of orientation is that the students
also form very intense relationships with a group of people who are NOT in their residence
hall. So if things aren't working out well in the hall, a student has a separate group of
friends to turn to. Even if things are just fine in the hall, it is always good to have a
wider network. We also work very hard to make sure that the members of the orientation group
are not all from the same major or the same hometown.

Fresh@News. What about the Orientation Counselors? What is their role?

K.E. One of the nicest tributes to orientation is that so many of our students apply to be
Orientation Counselors in later years. I was an OC myself when I was a student, and it
really is a remarkable opportunity for a student a few years down the road. The training is
extremely rigorous and the Orientation Counselors get a real sense of accomplishment. One
of the things that we stress is that Orientation does not end on Tuesday night. We expect
the OC to maintain a relationship with the new students throughout the year. It is
enormously useful for a first year student to have a "big brother/sister" on campus, to whom
he or she can turn for advice and support over the year. Usually each OC has one or more
reunions with the group through the year, but the informal contacts are where the magic
really happens. The OC can often be a resource for parents as well. If you were here
for the beginning of orientation you would have met the OC, but if you have questions or
comments for the OC, you can also forward them to me at Kelly.Eastland@Villanova.edu and I
can forward your message to the OC.

Fresh@News. What about you, how did you get involved in Orientation?

K.E. As I mentioned earlier, I was a Villanova student myself, and through Orientation and
some of the many other opportunities here I became very much involved in Student Life. In
my senior year I began to realize that I wanted to make a career out of this work, so I went
to graduate school in Higher Education Administration. It was really a dream come true to
be able to return to Villanova to work with the Student Life staff, both to apply some of
what I had learned in graduate school, and also to continue to work with the experienced
members of our staff here. It is a great career and this is a great job for me.

Fresh@News. Any other advice or suggestions for parents?

K.E. Just as we tell the OC staff that orientation doesn't end on Tuesday night, parents
need to know that we are always available to address questions or concerns. Obviously,
college is a time of life when students start to learn to work out their own issues, so
parents really should encourage the student to resolve whatever problem has come up. But
parents can always call the Dean of Students office at any time (610/519-4200). If we can't
answer your question, we can usually put you in touch with someone who can. Parents should
also check in with the Villanova web site, especially the Parents page at

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further information about Villanova. Fresh@news is edited by Kelly Eastland,
Director of New Student Orientation.  kelly.eastland@Villanova.edu.