On August 19, Villanova University opened its arms and its campus to 1,800 incoming students, the Class of 2026, marking the beginning of a four-day Orientation program.
Unfortunately, college and university orientations have been given a bad reputation, as they are often compared to summer camp. There is truth there: both New Student Orientation and summer camp have overlap. There are often a lot of icebreaker activities, long, sweltering days in the late-August heat, and the occasional educational activity peppered in to encourage new learning.
But there is a purpose to the activities that often induce eye rolls and groans. New Student Orientation provided incoming freshmen with a baseline community and an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the place and the people they will call home for the next four years.
New Student Orientation at Villanova was an overwhelming display of the institution’s core Augustinian values: Veritas, Unitas and Caritas.
Orientation Counselors, ‘OCs,’ as they are affectionately labeled, act as their groups’ guides to all things Villanova, not only leading the loathsome icebreaker activities, but also providing their own insight into their transition to college and campus culture. In doing so, they ease student anxieties and worries.
“He was very personable,” freshman Ava Petrosky said about her Orientation Counselor. “He opened up to us during the serious discussions [and] I felt he was comfortable sharing with us [which] helped my group to bond.”
Students ate, learned and celebrated with the same group of 20 or so of their peers, including their Orientation Counselor. In early August, my Orientation Counselor, Sulley Sanchez, sent me a handwritten letter in the mail, kindly introducing herself, providing information about Group 8 and encouraging me to further a connection and conversation by reaching out to her via iMessage. The University’s community was a big part of why I decided to apply. My Orientation Counselor’s commitment to fostering that via a personalized letter reaffirmed that I was indeed heading off to the right place.
While the most thrilling parts of New Student Orientation were highlighted in Villanova Television’s (VTV) annual video, the program is designed to set students up for success, helping them to familiarize themselves with all that the institution has to offer. Each day, students attended presentations that provided helpful information and answered need-to-know questions from ‘How do I get basketball tickets?’ to ‘Where can I seek emotional support on campus?’ On paper, this sounds mundane, but at Villanova, the Orientation staff makes this process enjoyable, memorable and entertaining.
In order to teach incoming students about the area outside Villanova’s campus (Wayne, Radnor and Philadelphia), including the various modes of transportation available to the various attractions, the Orientation staff gave a presentation in the style of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
“College moves pretty fast,” an Orientation staff member parodied in the video. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
The entertainment continued over the course of the program, featuring presentations about all things Villanova University inspired by memorable film and television classics such as “Freaky Friday,” “Finding Nemo” and “Parks and Recreation.”
While these presentations successfully managed to put a smile on every face in the room, it was often difficult to recall what was discussed after the conclusion of the information sessions. Providing freshmen with access to the presentations, or at least the information presented in a condensed manner (perhaps with links to the Dining Services website for more information on the difference between MPEs and meal swipes, etc.), would have eliminated students feeling overwhelmed. As creative and thoughtful as the presentations were, the information presented is crucial for Villanova students to know and should all be made available in case students need to reference something or refresh their memories.
Additionally, the jam-packed schedules leading up to the start of the school year provided little to no time for freshmen to prepare themselves for their first week of classes. Freshmen should be allowed more free time during the day, especially on Tuesday afternoon, to visit the campus bookstore to buy textbooks and supplies, print available syllabi or learn how to use the laundry machines in their dorms.
As New Student Orientation came to an end on Aug. 23, the day before the beginning of a new semester, the Class of 2026 gathered in the Finneran Pavilion for an official induction to the Villanova community led by University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., PhD. Students then shared a special moment with their classmates. In the true spirit of community, students helped light each other’s candles one by one to fill a darkened Pavilion with light and to mark the beginning of their career at Villanova. A similar moment will be shared in four years at the end of their journey.
This was indeed a beautiful moment to be remembered and cherished by the Class of 2026. It was a perfect way to wrap up a very hectic, overwhelming four-day New Student Orientation. It was the perfect way to start a new chapter with an outward display of community and friendship.
It has been more than a week since New Student Orientation and the 1,800 freshmen have integrated themselves into the Villanova community by attending classes, learning from their professors and inquiring about intramurals and a capella groups. The smooth transition could not have been made possible without the program, which has given incoming students the permission to find a place for themselves at Villanova, to feel more excited about their new home and to feel confident in their decision to join this community.