'WOW' Helps Students Connect
By Christine Neff
The start of school in a new environment can be an exciting and challenging time for first-year students. East Carolina University offers programs to help freshmen connect to their new home.
“We want them to feel like they are part of ECU, feel like they belong here,” said Karen Smith, associate director of ECU’s First Year Center. “We want them to make a connection to the college and to their peers, and to find at least one person on campus who can be a resource for them.”
Research, Smith said, shows that within six weeks, students will make the decision to stay at or leave a college. Activities aimed at retaining new students begin long before classes start and continue well into the first semester.
Summer orientation brought more than 4,800 new students and their families to ECU’s campus where they met with their academic advisors, registered for classes and got a taste of college life.
More than 1,800 freshmen have enrolled in fall seminars targeting their needs. The small classes of 20 to 25 allow classmates to get to know each other, explore career paths and learn skills such as time and money management.
The Class of 2012 can now connect online through the popular networking Web site, Facebook. First year students can join a Facebook group to communicate with other new students and link up to campus organizations and activities that match their interests, Smith said.
And, once they’re on campus, ECU’s WOW! – Weeks of Welcome – program aims to keep first-year students involved.
“The way I describe it to students is, ‘seven weeks of things to do, places to go and people to see, all designed to help welcome you to the ECU community,’” said Carol Woodruff, director of ECU’s co-curricular programs and cultural outreach.
This year’s WOW! includes cookouts, pizza parties, concerts, late nights at the Mendenhall Student Center with bowling, movies and billiards, the “ECU Star” talent show and a performance by a comedian.
New this year, freshmen will participate in the ECU Reads program, forming groups to discuss, “My Freshman Year – What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student” by Rebekah Nathan.
And, during the first three days of classes, upperclassmen staffed “Ask a Pirate” booths to help direct new students to their classrooms.
Some of the WOW! program’s goals are to enhance opportunities for students to connect with faculty and each other, to acquaint them with campus resources and help them gain a sense of ECU loyalty.
2008 will mark the fourth year that ECU has presented Weeks of Welcome, and research conducted after last year’s event provided positive feedback. When surveyed, students who participated said they felt “very connected to ECU” as a result of the activities, Woodruff said.