Nilsa Guajardo, orientation coordinator at The University of Texas-Pan American, can now breathe a sigh of relief. With the first day of classes August 26, her mission of organizing and conducting 24 orientation sessions - 16 for entering freshmen and eight for new incoming transfer students - during the summer for the fall 2004 semester was successfully completed.
Guajardo, who works out of the Office of New Student and Visitor Services, estimated since April almost 4,000 entering freshmen and more than 500 transfer students had attended the summer orientations. This figure does not include parents of students who attended a separate orientation the same day as their child. Orientation attendance is mandatory for all new incoming freshmen and transfer students.
Participating in an orientation session became a daylong adventure. The students and parents were led through the day that starts at 7:45 a.m. by a group of 20 paid, blue-shirted orientation leaders - a mixture of current international and Rio Grande Valley UTPA students who are trained for two semesters before leading a group. Guajardo said she coordinates all the planning, facilities, faculty, directors and other essentials needed for the orientation sessions, but her student leaders take charge on each orientation day.
"They stay with their group all day and help them register and help advise them. They are so reliable, they are awesome," she said.
All the orientation leaders are bilingual, Guajardo said, and use friendly conversation and "ice breakers" to put their group at ease.
"The new freshmen are making the transition from high school with their little group of friends into a college environment where they don't know anyone. My orientation leaders try to relate and talk to them. They come in real scared but leave our campus with new friends," Guajardo said.
After a greeting in the Student Union from the Vice President or Associate Vice President of the Division of Enrollment and Student Services Dr. John Edwards or Dennis McMillan respectively, the incoming students were introduced to key UTPA personnel managing many of the services available to students at the University - Learning Assistance Center, Student Financial Services and Scholarships, Office of Financial Aid, Admissions and Records, New Student and Visitor Services, High School to University Services, Student Health Services and the Student Union.
Next, following a lively video describing UTPA and a few directions for the day from Guajardo, the 300 students on average, armed with a bag containing a class schedule, yearly planner and a guidebook to UTPA programs and procedures, were divided into six "Meet Your College" groups according to the college of interest to the student.
The orientation leaders then guided the new students through a schedule that included meeting with a faculty member of the college they are interested in, a tour of the campus, special presentations for those required to take developmental courses and then to a lunch in the University Ballroom. Orientations for transfer students include an extra focus on financial aid and career placement services at the University.
UTPA senior Gaby Lopez, a student leader majoring in nursing, encouraged her group during one of the last sessions of the summer to take advantage of the services they are paying for and to get involved in the University. "It is very important to get involved the first year. It is not like high school, there are 15,000 students at UTPA so getting involved helps you get to know people better," she said.
After lunch, students were taken to an advisement session and then proceeded to their final destination of the day - registration for their classes.
Walking toward the Academic Services Building to register, the last step in a long day, Jaime Fernandez, a charter school graduate from Edinburg and an incoming freshman, said he had visited the campus before but had never been on the whole route.
"The University is really big. I was lost at first but the orientation helped me get where I needed to be," he said.
For more information on spring 2005 orientation sessions, contact Guajardo at 956/381-2957.