On Jan. 21-22, Siena Heights University took the concept of freshman orientation to a new level.
Working with the Lenawee Intermediate School District, Siena Heights hosted approximately 70 freshmen students from Hudson High School and their chaperones for a pilot program called “Freshmen Focus: What Is College All About?” In a time where students are beginning the college search process as early as junior high school, SHU Assistant Director of Admissions Sarah Baker Korth said Hudson ninth-graders who attended the program received an early preview of college life.
“The program went well,” said Baker Korth of the two-day “sleepover” designed to introduce the notion of college to high school freshmen. “People were willing to buy into what was kind of a sketchy vision and think outside the box. That’s the part that was really gratifying to me.”
Baker Korth said this type of an event had never been attempted in the Lenawee County area. Working with Connie Barth, career prep coordinator at the LISD, as well as Hudson counselors Karen Cheney and Sue Mansfield, on developing the program, she said “Freshmen Focus” begins to educate high school students on what they can expect from college academically, culturally, socially and emotionally.
“There are a huge percentage of first-generation (college) students in Lenawee County,” Baker Korth said. “I think the fact that we were willing to take this on and get other people on board sends a really strong message to Lenawee County that Siena Heights does care about kids.”
Hudson students arrived on the SHU campus on the morning of Jan. 21. During their time on campus, ninth-graders attended a specially designed class, learned about career options and visited with current college students, faculty and staff. The group also attended the SHU women’s varsity basketball game, undertook a campus scavenger hunt and had dinner in the campus cafeteria. After spending the night on campus, the group participated in several other activities before returning to Hudson Jan. 22.
“I think it went better than I thought it would go,” said Cheney, middle school/high counselor at Hudson who helped coordinate the program. “It changed my view as a counselor. Prior to this experience, I always assumed the kids had some working knowledge of what a college campus was because my own (children) had that because I’ve probably talked about that at home. I think I won’t assume so much when I’m working with kids. I’ll ask more questions, and I think it will change how I counsel them.”
“I am wondering why we didn’t do it sooner,” said Hudson High School Principal Mike Osborne. “Students who previously were not curious about college, and maybe even struggling in high school, were asking the kind of questions to show us they (have) an interest in college. It’s really exciting.”
Baker Korth said the sleepover (students and their chaperones spent the night in sleeping bags in some conference rooms on campus) helped complete the experience.
“Even though it may have been a teeny-weeny bit uncomfortable for those who slept over, it was a good thing,” she said.
Hudson freshman Burke Hart, 15, said three of his older brothers had attended college, so this experience was not so new for him. However, as a three-sport athlete who has aspirations of college scholarship, he said his time on Siena’s campus was helpful.
“It hasn’t really changed my perspective (of college),” said Hart, who wants to study agri-science in college. “But I (now) know what I have to do to get into a college and get a scholarship.”
However, for 14-year-old Samantha Merillat, who wants to enter the health care field one day, the visit was her first to a college campus.
“I thought it was fun learning about everything,” said Merillat, who was impressed with the food in the college cafeteria. “I know what to expect now.”
“When they went on the scavenger hunt, it became really apparent to me that these kids hadn’t a clue what a college campus was like,” Cheney said. “They didn’t know how many buildings were involved, how many staff was involved. When we went into the library, they were amazed it was three stories.”
Baker Korth said the program’s career focus was a key element. It helped high school students realize they need to start the college search process sooner rather than later.
“I think their eyes were opened that they can’t just wake up one morning in their junior year and decide this is what I’m going to do,” she said of the college decision-making process. “There is some planning and preparation for it. Having that career focus tied closely into this helped them to begin to think more concretely (about college).”
“I think it’s a great first step,” said Osborne, who thinks this type of program could even work at the middle school level. “It’s great to show them what (college) is like so they get a better feel for it.”
Baker Korth said there were measures in place to track attitudinal changes in the ninth-graders before, during and after their campus visit. Students recorded their experiences in journals that also provided feedback for the presentations and overall process.
There is future talk of expanding the program to include other area schools, Baker Korth said. However, because of the intense planning and preparation involved, she said they may not all include sleepovers.
“People have asked me if this is a success,” she said. “I’ll let you know in four years.”