A vibrant welcome to FSU
By Emily Rosenberg
A parent waves as they wipe a tear from their eye and watch their first-born child enter their residence hall.
There’s a long line at the campus bookstore and ID office.
There are signs everywhere directing people where to go, and welcoming people to campus.
And in front of the McCarthy Center, there’s a booth with the smiling faces of orientation leaders and Deans inviting new and returning students to decorate the ground with chalk.
Every year, New Student and Family Programs, which has been broken into two offices following orientation, the Dean of Students, and Student Involvement organize orientation and a welcome week known as “Black and Gold Beginnings” (BGB) for new students.
Black and Gold Beginnings was spread out over a week, lasting from the day first-years moved in to the last day of the first week of classes. This is unlike previous years, when it lasted the length of move-in to the first day of classes.
Sara Gallegos, executive director of student experience and careers, said the Black and Gold Beginnings Planning Committee decided to stretch out the events into a welcome week due to the odd scheduling of the beginning of the academic year. The first day of school was on a Friday, which led into Labor Day.
Instead, they planned a “welcome week,” which is traditional for other universities. There were approximately the same number of programs, but students had more opportunities to attend them because they were spread out over the week, rather than overlapping.
Programming included an SGA-sponsored movie night, a scavenger hunt and a tote bag decorating session with orientation leaders, a back-to-school barbeque, and more informational programming such as “questions that need answers” tabling and classroom tours.
Gallegos said students she talked to appreciated the change because they were able to participate in more events. She said the first few days of move-in and learning about the campus can be overwhelming, so extending the schedule allowed them to offer more class tours and library sessions, which she found to be “a lot more welcoming.”
She added having “the second week really afforded a lot of opportunities for commuter students because it was so traditionally based, in the past, around move-in.”
Rachel Lucking, assistant dean of engagement, said, “It gave us more programming while our student organizations get up and running.”
Gallegos and Lucking said the student organization and career fairs were some of the highest-attended events, and were especially useful because they help first-year students learn how they can get involved right off the bat.
There were also changes made to orientation sessions. Leah Mudd, orientation coordinator, said advising and registration was removed from students’ orientation day and they could schedule an appointment before or after in person or virtually.
She said this added more time for students to work one-on-one with their orientation leaders and group activities.
She said, “We were able to give the students more time to connect with each other and more time to connect with their orientation leader in those small group times.”
Mudd added it also made the day a lot shorter, which was beneficial particularly for transfer students. “Our transfer students are a really diverse population in terms of what they need, and so a lot of times, it's harder for transfer students to take a whole day out of work or childcare or whatever the case may be.”
She said it was great to see students who met during orientation hanging out at Black and Gold Beginnings events and some of them even became roommates. “One of my main goals and something that I tell them at the very beginning during my welcome - that I hope they get out of the day at orientation - is that I hope you have a familiar face that you can grab lunch with or get Dunkin’ with.”
Ben Trapanick, director of Family Engagement - who formerly oversaw orientation - said his favorite part of helping lead orientation was at the end of the day when they offered first years dinner. He stood at the door and asked them how their day was. “‘Good day,’ they said. You want them to feel like they have connected with the University, and that made me feel good.”
Mudd highlighted the “fantastic job” the orientation leaders did throughout orientation and Black and Gold connecting with students.
Kathryn Washburn, a senior campus engagement ambassador who runs the “Newfsurams” Instagram, said working as an ambassador for BGB has helped her understand students on a much deeper level.
She said her goal is to make sure students know what resources are available to them and that they have a familiar face on campus.
Dillon Riley, a sophomore orientation leader, said he viewed his role as ensuring new students had a “support system” and guiding them to friendships coming into FSU.
“I think it's good to have the connection, even if it’s just like, ‘Oh, I have a face I [know]’ knowing that, OK, I've gone through the exact same thing only just a year ago,” he said.
Evelyn Campbell, a sophomore orientation leader, said, “We are really the first people that new students interact with. We do provide students with a lot of helpful information and help them get accustomed to college life.”
She added even now, after orientation and BGB has ended, she still makes sure to say, “Hi,” to students because she can serve as a familiar face and allow them to feel they belong on campus.
Campbell said she is especially proud of how two students she met in her first orientation session “kicked it off” throughout the day and she was able to convince them to join SGA and they are also now roommates.
Orientation leaders have shared how these programs aren't just special because of the wide impact they make on new students, but because of the lasting memories they and program directors make with each other.
Austin Van Lingen, a senior orientation leader, said, “I love that without being an orientation leader, I wouldn't have met all the people that I met. And I think very strongly that we are going to have a lifelong connection because of this.”
He added the belief system he grew up with was a lot different than what they teach at the University and at training. “With our team-bonding exercises, and our deep and loving conversations that we had with one another. … [They] changed me completely. I'm thankful for that for sure.”
Campbell said, “I truly feel like I will be friends with them for the rest of my life. Even from the very first group interview, everyone clicked automatically, and we ended up getting dinner after. We have had a few bumps in the road. However, with all of us being the natural problem-solvers we are, we tend to work out issues rather quickly.”
Trapanick said the relationships he’s built with the Black and Gold Orientation leaders as well as different Orientation Coordinators have meant a lot to him.
He said there was a reunion for Black and Gold leaders in 2019 during Homecoming weekend and some students who had been gone for 10 or more years returned.
It being Washburn’s last year of participating in BGB, she thanked everyone for coming to events.
She added one of her favorite memories was the Back to School Barbeque. “Behind the scenes, we put a lot of work into that event, and to see it come so successfully to fruition was special for me. As a senior, it was also the beginning of my last year, which is really bittersweet.”
Lucking said the vibes created on campus during BGB were amazing. “It just felt like there was a lot more excitement and buzz around campus. So to me, that was a big shift in coming out of the pandemic and feeling this sense of community and excitement about being back on campus.”
She added, “That's something I really had missed a lot of when we were restricted.”
Gallegos said what makes Black and Gold Beginnings great for her is seeing the connections students make with each other. “I saw a couple groups of students that were first years that just made these instant friendships and they were going to everything together. And then I saw them hanging out together in the Game Room. And so I see them together now in the Dining Commons, and that's my favorite part. That's the whole point of it - it's wonderful.”