New freshmen, new orientation, new traditions for UWM

By Angela McManaman and Tina J. Wagner

NSO leaders gather at the fountain, one of the prime hangouts on the UWM  campus.

Beginning Monday, the newest students arrive at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to partake in a timeless welcome-to-college tradition: orientation.

But some traditions should be modernized, so UWM New Student Orientation (NSO) 2013 debuts several upgrades, updates and add-ons to get new students connected to campus and classmates on an even faster, friendlier basis.

More than 30 trained NSO leaders will guide some 250 new students and guests through the two-day program on a twice-weekly basis through June and July. In addition to being experts on the student experience at UWM, NSO leaders like Yeng Thao draw on their own memories to give the Class of 2017 the best orientation experience possible.

Yeng Thao (right) prepares a sign to guide new students during orientation.

“I remember being nervous and quiet,” says Yeng, now a junior studying cello performance in the Peck School of the Arts. “I went to orientation by myself, but after participating in icebreakers, it got me talking and meeting friends. I even still talk to those orientation friends. It made me more relaxed when I came to UWM for classes.”

NSO insight extends overnight

A major NSO upgrade this year is evolving the traditional one-day-only NSO format into an overnight, two-day experience. Incoming students spend an evening in RiverView Residence Hall after a daylong look at the ins and outs of UWM – from where to get coffee to how to get a campus job; from why and where to stay in shape in college to enhanced financial-aid sessions.

“Overnights bring new students significantly more opportunities to meet and mingle with their new peers,” says Ericca Pollack, director of the Student Success Center and NSO mastermind. “Feeling connected to campus in and out of class is a very important aspect of student success and persistence.”

The new, improved NSO “Day 2” is a get-stuff-done day, with a deeper look at academics during meetings with faculty and staff from UWM’s individual schools and colleges.

Looking back three years later, NSO leader and junior architecture major  Jessica Yester says that early academic experience was most motivating. “I really experienced everything an architecture major would. When they said architecture majors would design a chair while in school, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to start.”

Day 2: Get Stuff Done

Jessica Yester

Day 2 concludes with necessary orientation housekeeping: registration, PAWS training, ID pickup and distribution of the fall 2013 Common Read selection, “The Latehomecomer.” Every incoming student gets a copy of Kao Kalia Yang’s memoir of identity and belonging, cultural shift and tradition during her emigration from Thailand’s Ban Vinai refugee camp to Minnesota. Students will read the book over the summer and will discuss in faculty-led reading groups during their assigned panther Welcome Day, Aug. 29, 30 or 31.

But this week and every week for the remainder of this summer, NSO leader Yester most looks forward to showing off some of UWM’s best assets – resources students might otherwise overlook in those busy, exciting, intense first days on campus.

“Students don’t always know everything we have to offer: Norris, events, free food, the Klotsche Center, Bradford Beach,” says Yester. “We’ll show them and give them that first-year experience prior to coming to college. It’s a time to branch out, meet people and expand horizons.”