[Fresh] New Student Orientation interview

Kelly Donio (kelly.donio@villanova.edu)
Mon, 29 Aug 2005 14:18:04 -0400

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

Fresh@news. You have just finished the four-day orientation program for
the class of 2009. How did it go?

Ms. Kelly Donio. 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.

Fresh@news. What were some of the highlights?

K.D. 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 after the picnic 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 this."

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

K.D. There are a few highlights. This year, we added many new programs
for parents including the Parents Resource Fair and optional information
sessions on Saturday morning. The information sessions covered a variety
of topics from Majors and Careers to Academics at Villanova. Overall, we
were pleased with both the turnout and the overall positive response
from parents.

One of the most successful activities this year was the Monday evening
entertainment, where there were a number of optional activities
happening. The entertainment included a casino night, live band, arcade
games and an outdoor movie. Dining Services put together a boardwalk
full of treats from “Cities Across America”, which consisted of shrimp
“po-boys,” Chicago style pizza, Philadelphia cheesesteaks and much more!
Overall it was a great opportunity for students to mingle and get to
know one another.

Another great moment for our students was on the final evening during a
speech to the whole class by Mr. Richard Jackman, a retired professor of
the Communication Department. Years ago, 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.

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.D. New student orientation is really about four things. First, 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 questions?

K.D. 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? where 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 www.orientation.villanova.edu.

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

K.D. 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 Student 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

K.D. 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.D. 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.donio@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 www.parents.villanova.edu

Finally, I would ask parents to encourage their sons and daughters to
attend the Activities Forum on Wednesday, August 31st from 6-9 p.m. in
the Pavilion. Over 150 clubs and organizations have registered for the
event. New students can get information about how to get involved on
campus. Getting involved is one of the best ways students feel connected
to Villanova.

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