Lycoming College prepares new students for college life

Pictured are the Student Orientation Staff (SOS), who help students prepare for college life.

For many recent high school graduates, the next step down the road of life is leaving home and starting college. It’s an exciting first taste of freedom, when students traditionally test both their wings and their limits, all while getting an education that will set them on a career path four years later.

Challenges for new students range from navigating life in a residence hall while learning to live with a roommate; accepting differences in new friends and acquaintances; and dealing positively with peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol.

Starting in June with introductory orientation sessions, Lycoming College has been actively preparing new students to adjust to all aspects of campus life, noted Andrew W. Kilpatrick, associate dean of Student Success and Academic Services and Dean of First Year Students.

Transitioning from home to residence hall can be an exciting but stressful start to college life. To maximize the chances that students will have a good experience, Kilpatrick noted that roommates are first paired up by honoring requests. Next, college officials use responses to questions on an online housing agreement to determine shared interests as a guideline. Sometimes that doesn’t work perfectly, though, the dean said, as students who are too much alike might have difficulty getting along. If conflicts arise, Kilpatrick added, “We want them to be patient and learn to communicate to resolve issues.”

Once school starts students are assisted in adjusting to residence life by a resident assistant (R.A.), an upperclassman assigned to live in the hall to facilitate relationships, encourage conflict resolution, and provide a listening ear on the student level. The ratio is one R.A. for every 28 students, said Kilpatrick.

Allowing the R.A. to handle situations that might arise is better than involving college officials, Kilpatrick emphasized. “One definition of leadership is knowing when to get out of the way,” he pointed out.

The dean added that students who learn to live and work with others do better in graduate school and in their future jobs. “They are more successful in the long run,” he said.

At Lycoming College 90 percent of students live on campus all four years, Kilpatrick said, “and that’s the way we like it.”

The Class of 2022 “is one of the most diverse classes in our college’s 206-year history,” the dean noted. Members of the incoming class will arrive from 21 states, the District of Columbia, and 15 foreign countries from the United Kingdom to Thailand to El Salvador.

With that diversity come challenges and opportunities for learning extending far beyond a classroom and textbook. Three important qualities that students will need on campus and in life, said Kilpatrick, “are an open mind, an open heart and an open attitude.”

Facing down temptation and peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol can be a challenge when living independently, and college officials take a proactive approach to provide students with strategies to resist the allure of risky behaviors.

A fun event will be a program during “First Weekend ,” August 24-26, offered by stand-up comedian, psychologist, and motivational speaker Matthew Bellace, Ph.D, a Bucknell University graduate and neuroscientist who uses the power of comedy and laughter to discuss responsible choices in an entertaining setting.

“Some students don’t feel connected to others or they feel like they are outsiders if they don’t take drugs or alcohol, says Bellace, quoted in grad Psych Magazine addressing the reasons why students can be susceptible to poor choices. Bellace “aims to empower students to choose a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle,” the article reported.

Other activities for “First Weekend” include settling in to the residence halls, attending community meetings, and learning about campus resources such as professional support for mental wellness, physical health and spiritual health. After the President’s Reception, parents depart the campus and college life begins for real.

Success as a college student begins by meeting the goal to have a good first day of classes followed by a good first semester and then graduating in four years, said Kilpatrick.

A traditional cap and gown event with faculty and staff dressed intheir formal robes and mortarboards will give new students a chance to glimpse the future. The incoming students will process through the Syke Gates at Market Street, foreshadowing their final procession through a different set of gates four years later wearing the sweet smiles of success in their own caps and gowns, with diplomas clutched firmly in hand.