College of Education Students Support New Student Orientation
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three students from the College of Education’s rehabilitation and human services major are putting their studies to good use this summer as part of Penn State’s New Student Orientation team.
Megan Foster, a senior from Doylestown, Pa., is an orientation leader. Julie Nyce, a senior from Souderton, Pa., and Mary Schultz, a senior from Berkeley Springs, W.Va., are both orientation associates. They are three of just 32 students selected to help facilitate the new program.
Nearly 9,000 new Penn State students and their parents will navigate the University’s new two-day orientation program. It replaces the daylong First-Year Testing, Consulting, and Advising Program (FTCAP).
Student feedback of FTCAP, as well as assessment data from past years, led Penn State to make the conversion. The expanded time frame allows for more student-to-student interactions.
“I remember when I did FTCAP. I was with mostly adults and advisors. You couldn’t really ask questions like, ‘What am I going to do on Friday nights?” or ‘Will I make friends?’ Foster said.
“They couldn’t really answer because they hadn’t been through it in so long. We think the students can connect better with us.”
As orientation associates, Nyce and Schultz don’t have as much one-on-one time with new students, but they still perform a valuable service.
“A lot of what the OA’s do is talk to parents when they first get here, talk to the families. A lot of them are really confused, really frazzled. They’ve just had a long car trip, they’ve never been to campus before, or this part of campus at least, they don’t know where they’re going or what’s going to happen,” Schultz said.
“A lot of parents are still in protection mode with their student. They say, ‘I need to know where we’re going.’ Once they know we’re going to take care of them in the program and we’re going to tell them exactly what to do and we’re going to provide a really great experience for them, they become more comfortable. It just makes everything so much better. Whey they’re comfortable, their student is comfortable.”
Part of that comforting behavior was learned in RHS classes, Nyce said.
“I’ve learned more about how to work with people. It’s more of the mental aspect with RHS,” she said. “In a group work class that I took, we learned about how to communicate with people and how best to portray your ideas so that people take it well and can process it. That has helped a lot. I really enjoy the aspect of helping people through a transition. It does help me interact with them.”
Foster, Nyce and Schultz all discovered RHS later in their Penn State careers, transferring from other majors. But all three agreed that the tenets and teachings in the major help not only with orientation duties but in keeping them in line with their long-range goals.
“Once I get my degree, I plan on applying to graduate school to get my master’s in counseling,” Schultz said. “I think I might want to work with college students, which is why this job was really appealing to me. I want to interact with college students, helping them with transitions.”
Foster, who said she hopes to become a guidance counselor one day, said her RHS studies reinforce things she learned as a peer counselor at Penn State Abington.
“I had heard that a lot of guidance counselors had started as teachers. So I was going to go through teaching and then become a guidance counselor. Then I saw in the classes that you would actually learn more about how to help people rehabilitate themselves from whatever difficulty they are suffering from, so I figured that would be a much better fit and pathway to go straight to guidance counseling or counseling overall,” she said.
Nyce, who is interested in alternative therapies, said RHS introduced her to a world of possibilities.
“I came in thinking that I was going to be a physical therapist. I used to think there were only two types of therapy — physical and mental,” she said. “Then I took classes like RHS 100 and RHS 300 and it just opened up a door full of different therapies that I could go into. I really don’t think I would have found alternative medicine or holistic medicine had I not come into the major.”
For now, the trio will continue to help soothe the anxiety of nervous students and their parents for the rest of the summer. It is, Schultz said, quite fulfilling.
“It makes me feel really great because it makes me feel like I’m here for a purpose. Our job doesn’t really require us to work with students that much. We don’t get the face time with the students that the orientation leaders do. But I really like that aspect of the job,” she said.
“They told us in training that one of Penn State’s mottoes is ‘Making Lives Better.’ That’s the feeling you get. I just made someone feel better about the confused state they were in.”
--by Andy Elder (June 2013)