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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

Summer Introductions Give a Head Start on the Year

— At most universities the time of arrival for new and returning students is almost at hand. In a residential college setting, this is one of the most exciting times of the year. But if the first contact you have with your new residential college members takes place on the day of their arrival, then you have missed an opportunity to get a head start on the year.

In the residential college I oversaw for six years we maintained an active e-mail discussion group, Strong-L, which had an active year-round life, not just a life during the school year. In the summer, students and fellows alike kept the conversation going with stories of travels, complaints about life at home, queries about future roommates, and discussion of current events in the news.

One thing we worked carefully to do during the summer was to add many of our incoming students (fledglings) to the discussion group from their home e-mail addresses, well before they arrived on campus. After reading a few weeks of messages from college members and introducing themselves to the group, the new students felt like they were already part of the community from the moment they arrived in person on the college grounds.

I have put together a new page for the Collegiate Way website, a transcript of one of these long threads of summer introductions, and I invite you to browse it. The remarkable generosity of the older students in offering advice and assistance to the fledglings (even if they did purposely tease them from time to time) was always consistent from year to year, as was the range of questions from the new students (everything from “how big are the windows?” to “what subject should I major in?”).

What are the prerequisites for successful e-mail conversations of this kind that extend over many weeks? There are two at least. First, many of the participants must already know each other and be conscious of the fact that they are purposely drawing out the new members. They have to just enjoy talking with each other, and once that becomes evident the newer members will realize that it’s safe to step into the conversation. You will see in many of these messages that the posters are playing off one another with established jokes and anecdotes about past occurrences. The new members can see that they won’t be arriving cold: they will be coming into an existing, lively community. And second, to be successful and set the right educational tone, the group should include a few fellows of the college along with the students. At least three of the posters in this long exchange of introductions were college fellows.

You will find that some of the new members will never speak up and won’t introduce themselves in such a setting, but that should never be a cause of concern. You can be almost certain that they are listening and absorbing everything in great detail. And when they arrive, they will see the college surroundings as a comfortable home as well.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021