By Dana Kastenson, COB web intern
Every year, college bound high school seniors make the transition into universities and other institutions across the country. Many, like UW-Eau Claire boast numbers of 10,000 students or more, making it easy for a new student to get lost in the sea of thousands of others who attend classes there too.
But programs like the Freshman Connection, held every summer for incoming freshmen, have eased fears of stepping on campus for these new faces to UW-Eau Claire. Conceived by former UW-Eau Claire housing director Doug Hallatt, the Freshman Connection grew from classes Hallatt taught to resident assistants to a week long program that is now the Freshman Connection, a Leadership Institute program.
According to Justin Gardner, coordinator of the Freshman Connection, many of the students who attended Hallatt's leadership classes were juniors and seniors.
"Many thought that it would have been better for them to have had a class like this coming into their freshmen year," he said.
And with those suggestions, the first Freshman Connection was open to new college freshmen in 1989. The program started out as a week long program, then condensed to a two and a half day event in 2003. Gardner said that while some social activities had to be cut, much of the same curriculum is still taught in those two and a half days.
"It's more intense of an event from meeting new people to learning new leadership skills," he said.
Going strong for nearly twenty years, the institute has won several local and national awards, including a National Residence Hall Honorary award for Education Program of the Month in 2005. Gardner said the program has received much community support which has helped to fund the program as well as fundraising and course fees.
However, Gardner said the most successful part about the Freshman Connection is the newly found confidence many students get when they leave the session.
"It's a goal to have students feel better about themselves, and hearing them say it was life changing experience makes it successful," he said. Gardner also gives a lot of credit to the student staff whom he said run the program and act as role models to the students.
As for students who attended this year's institute, many have said the best part about it was meeting other freshmen like themselves and creating a network of new friends. Phillip Hatfield, an undecided major from Mankato, MN said one thing he'll take away from the Freshman Connection is getting to know and work with the other students who attended his session with him.
"The biggest thing I'll get out of it is knowing 22 other people really well and becoming great friends," he said.
Marta Schmuki, also an undecided major from Waukesha, WI said that while she's usually an outgoing person, she felt a little shy stepping onto the UWEC campus for the Freshman Connection. However, after the session, she said that she has opened up and improved her communication skills greatly.
"I would have been worse off [coming to college], if I hadn't attended the Freshman Connection," she said.
Marketing major Stefanie Moessner from Brooklyn Park, MN said she has gained more trust and teamwork skills because of the Freshman Connection. She also said that the curriculum from the session taught her to see beyond the typical stereotypes one may see at college.
"We learned about the different stereotypes, and that has taught me how to see people without those labels when I see them on campus," she said. "Those are skills that are important, even in the near future."