The groove of the place

imagesIt’s decision season for high school seniors. All across the country, they’re opening, waiting for, or pondering letters of acceptance. Their next decision is a crucial one. Which school to choose? It comes down to fit. What school fits you best? Part of figuring that out is learning everything you can about a given college or university. Keep reading for a tip about JMU…

One signature characteristic of James Madison University is doing everything possible to see that every student succeeds. JMU is not a school where you can expect either the person on the right of you or the person on the left of you to be gone by second semester. It’s a place where you can expect to see them at graduation. The effort behind student success begins early with an exceptional orientation experience. Last fall, Mary Yuhas and I shared some correspondence about orientation. As a parent, Mary had seen its effect on her own son. At our request, Mary wrote a blog post on JMU’s orientation from her perspective as a parent. It’s well worth a read…..

Embracing the change

JMU niche helps students transition to college life

by Mary Yuhas (’15P)

Whenever my son, Michael Yuhas (’15), a proud and content JMU third-year student, describes his orientation experience at JMU to friends attending other colleges ranging in variety from Virginia state universities to small, private liberal arts colleges, he gets a variety of unexpected reactions:

“Wow, I wish my school had such a great orientation—sounds like a private school.”
“That sure is a fantastic way to get you into the groove of the place.”
“Man, I’m jealous – my orientation was nowhere near that awesome!”
“No wonder you love it there so much!”
“I can’t believe you guys have a two-part orientation – sweet!”
“That MOAT thing is way cool!”
“A 15-minute move in…while upper class volunteers carry your boxes?  No way!”

The reactions I hear from parents of his friends, when they hear about the “JMU way,” are similar.

Upon hearing these comments, I have come to realize that JMU’s orientation program is exceptional and one-of-a-kind; a true niche in first year experiences.  The opportunities available to Michael to get to know JMU through its multifaceted orientation programs, which includes Springboard Orientation with the option to do a Madison Orientation Adventure Trip (MOAT) immediately afterward, to the four-day 1787 Orientation immediately preceding the start of classes that brings freshmen to campus before most upper class students arrive, are phenomenal in both their breadth and depth and beyond the norm at most colleges.

Helping freshmen make the transition from high school and living with family —  to college and living with peers — is all about managing personal change effectively.  JMU is a master at managing change on all levels: personal, administrative and academic.  Michael saw a handful of friends on his hall arrive with the goal of transferring to other Virginia schools, but the JMU orientation program effectively convinced them they never wanted to leave.  The more they heard about what those other schools weren’t doing that JMU was doing, the more they wanted to stay at JMU.

JMU strongly sends the message and shows through its actions that they want you to stay and become an enthusiastic member of the JMU family and that they’ll support you in that journey.

To this end, Springboard, MOAT (Madison Orientation Adventure Trips), and 1787 combine to transition the whole student — attending to logistical needs such as signing up for classes, meeting one-on-one with an adviser (a rarity for schools JMU’s size), getting the all-important JAC card, finding one’s way around campus, and knowing where to seek help when problems crop up; while providing assistance in managing the emotional stress associated with changing one’s environment, including social events to make friends, all-freshman dorms where everyone is encouraged to bond and strike out together as new college students, the availability of living-learning communities, indoctrinating students in how to “bleed purple,” and initiating them into a shared experience through a variety of guided activities that help bond them to one another and to the school.  This “whole student” approach is one of JMU’s signature strengths, and it is what sets it apart from many other schools.

JMU really does “run like butter” as described in a Princeton Review guide. The ability and willingness of the JMU staff to give any kind of assistance whenever needed shows how much this school cares about its undergraduate students and helping them manage change smoothly and effectively.

Participating in MOAT as part of Springboard ensured that Michael connected with the vibe of the student body and Shenandoah area while also providing him with a ready group of friends when he arrived on campus for 1787.  The process continued with 1787, facilitating camaraderie on both the academic and emotional level, through its common reading experience and discussions, as well as its myriad bonding activities to help freshmen acclimate and feel at home.  From holding doors open throughout campus, to the energetic Freshmen Orientation Guide (FrOG) program, and an incredibly efficient and upbeat move in day, he was made to feel wanted right from the start.

The common reading experience gave the sense of academic seriousness, while community building activities inculcated the message that overall happiness of students is of utmost importance to JMU.

From JMU’s stellar mix of classic liberal arts education and progressive hands-on training, to its emphasis on undergraduate excellence and being “altogether one,” my son has found the combination of community, down to earth friendliness, and outstanding academics that is uniquely JMU.  This A-plus orientation program — including Springboard, MOAT, and 1787 — is a one-of-a-kind JMU way of “being the change” in the lives of freshmen and setting them on a course to create and manage their own life changing experiences at JMU.

Now his sister, who attended 2011 Choices with her brother and decided right then and there that she loved this JMU idea of embracing change through a combination of strong community, support, and excellence, hopes to soon hear that she, too, will be a member of the JMU family with the Class of 2018.

Summer of a thousand questions

UnknownThe summer before freshman year of college is usually one to remember — three months filled with last minute memories, bittersweet farewells, and often a certain amount of anxiety.

Will I fit in? Will I be able to find my classes? What size television will fit? Can I bring my  iguana? Do I need a fan? How much can I cram under my bed?

It’s the summer of a thousand questions.

This summer, JMU senior Anthony Bowman set up and managed an open Facebook page to allow incoming freshmen  — the Class of 2017 — to ask seasoned students about what to expect, what to pack, what to do, how to prepare — and a thousand other random but important questions.

Anthony, a music education major from Greenbelt, Md., who’ll graduate in December, actually started helping with JMU freshman Facebook pages much earlier.

“When I got back home after my freshman year, I missed JMU a lot, so I just started to help answer questions for the incoming Class of 2012 as a connection to JMU.  Starting with the Class of 2014, I was very active with the groups to the point that a lot of my free time in the summers was dedicated to helping out. Most of the Facebook groups were started by other people. However, I really wanted to be in charge from the beginning this year, so I made one back in January. There are actually two groups. I’m the administrator for one, and help out in the other.”

The response has been pretty phenomenal. Anthony’s FB page has more than 3,300 members, evidence that the advice from Anthony and others is welcomed.

JMU's answer man, Anthony Bowman

JMU’s answer man, Anthony Bowman

“Whether it’s just helping them decide whether JMU is right for them, or providing information about what to expect during their first year and beyond, it’s fun to help. I’ve always thought of the Facebook groups as a bridge connecting them to JMU — in addition to the One Book and the many university offices.  I think it’s important that so many current students decide to help each summer, too. I may be one of the more frequent helpers, but everyone who helps out contributes a great deal — even correcting me when I don’t give correct or accurate info. Its just another way for current JMU students to help out the JMU community.”

Throughout the summer, Anthony has fielded all kinds of questions — what to bring and what not to bring —  how and when to buy textbooks — and an interesting discussion about aquatic pets, he says.

One incoming freshman wrote a note of thanks on the page:

With housing stuff calming down I just want to thank everyone who has helped the incoming freshmen on this page, especially Anthony Bowman. Ant you have dedicated so much of your time to helping answer question after question and you have been nothing but enthusiastic and a total blessing through this entire process. Your love for JMU is contagious and incredibly evident. You really embody the true excellence that is a JMU student. From what you’ve said I can tell it’s been a long journey for you, but I wish you nothing but the best as you graduate this year! I know you’ll do great wherever life ends up taking you. Thanks a million and God Bless 

Ant-logo_4Social media has changed the landscape for incoming freshmen. By the time the Class of 2017 arrives on campus next week for Orientation, they’ll know more people, have more information, and be better prepared than their counterparts were just a handful of years ago.

Once they are on campus, of course, the questions won’t stop. It’s all part of the process of getting settled into a new environment. Starting from the minute freshmen step on campus, they’ll be able to ask their FROGS, OPAs, RAs and ANTS.  They’ll quickly learn the acronyms : FROGS — Freshmen Orientation Guides; OPAs — Orientation Peer Advisers; RAs — the Residence Advisers; and ANTS — Assisting New Transfer Students.

Anthony knows that well. “I was a FROG the year I helped out the Class of 2015, so I had a chance to make impacts in person with my first year students in Ashby Hall that year, along with the rest of my amazing FROG group and awesome OPAs,” he says.

Perhaps as important as all the answers that Anthony and friends dole out is this:  It is proof positive that JMU is a community determined to see students succeed.

Giving them opportunities to ask a thousand questions is a good place to start.

To learn more, check out the embedded links.
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