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Pieces of Eight


Incoming ECU students enjoyed an unconventional approach to orientation this year, a program that incorporated videos styled after a popular MTV reality-TV show, “The Hills,” to teach new students about college life. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)


Learning from 'The Loft'

ECU Orientation Program Takes Cue from Reality-TV

By Christine Neff

Sure, teenagers love reality-TV. But can they learn anything from it?

East Carolina University thinks they can, and has incorporated the popular style of programming into orientation sessions as a way to educate incoming students about the adjustment to college life.

ECU staff and students have created a series of videos styled after the MTV reality show, “The Hills.” Called, “The Loft,” the scripted drama focuses on six new college students adapting to university life and the challenges it can present.

Humorous and informative, the episodes address issues such as difficult roommates, time and stress management, study skills, alcohol and drug safety and body image. After watching each segment with students, ECU experts facilitate discussion and invite students to respond to questions about the video. Students are also advised about campus resources.

A group of ECU staff members came up with the idea to reach students through the reality-TV format.  

“Every year for summer orientation, we try to evolve and do something that we think is a little better than the previous year,” said Karen Warren, director of Campus Wellness.

“This year, we decided we would like to do something more like a reality show because that’s so popular right now.’

In past years, orientation sessions have used live skits and testimonials by students to give incoming freshmen a look at the issues and experiences they may encounter in college.

But, said Bob Morphet, assistant director of the Center for Counseling and Student Development, those methods did not always engage students.

‘We saw lots of (cell phone) texting going on,” he said. “So we thought, how do we try to push the envelope to at least have students begin to think about these issues, so when they come back in August it’s not the first time they’re seeing or hearing about these things?”

Their idea? To speak students’ language in a format they could enjoy.

“I think that reality-TV is a format students can relate to, and, with the facilitation piece, it becomes a good tool to keep the attention of our students while presenting them with these important messages,” Warren said.

The short, high-quality videos were produced entirely by ECU staff and students. Staff members scripted and produced the scenes, while students served as cast and crew.

Heather Wilkinson of Student Life communication and advancement called production “the smoothest running week of so-much shooting I’ve ever done in my life. Our students did an amazing job, and were so professional,” she said.  

The group produced eight videos to be shown at orientation sessions. More videos will be released periodically to a web site dedicated to the program. The web site will also host a blog, open chats with ECU staff and faculty, information about campus resources and other materials. Students will be encouraged to use the web site throughout their first year at college and beyond.

Morphet said the program helps ECU faculty and staff relate to college students while discussing important subjects. “The hard thing is striking a balance. We need to sound like we know what we’re talking about, but not like we’re sermonizing,” he said. “I’m not going to tell students what to do and what not to do, but I do want them to think about the decisions they are going to make here.”

This page originally appeared in the July 31, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at