New Tartan program eases transition for first-year students virtually

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Sophomore Tamera Hutchinson is just a year removed from her first day of college — though these days, it feels like a completely different era. But one thing hasn’t changed — nothing is more welcoming for a freshman on Move-In Day than open arms and smiling faces. 

Even if those arms are socially distanced and those smiles are virtual or partially hidden behind a mask.  

Hutchinson is one of 22 student volunteers who make up Campbell University’s Tartan Team welcoming first-year students this weekend and helping ease their transition to college life during a time when none of this is easy. 

Tartan — a nod to founder J.A. Campbell’s Scottish roots — is a multi-day event designed to not only support first-year students during these all-important first few days, but also provide opportunities for them to learn about campus history, traditions and resources to make connections with other students and faculty members. Tartan kicked off on Saturday, the second day of move-in for on-campus residents, and will run through Monday

“Walking around campus and eating in [the new] Gaylord’s Kitchen alone can be intimidating for a freshman, but when someone goes out of their way to introduce themselves, it can make a big difference,” says Hutchinson, a biology/pre-med major. “As an out-of-state student [last year], I didn’t know anybody when I first came here, and I know how intimidating it can be to reach out and make friends. I want to be a friendly face and a helping hand to incoming students that may need it.”

Most of this week’s Tartan activities are online — Saturday offered the Camel 101 Pathway, an opportunity for first-year students to meet Tartan leaders and others like them and learn the “basics” of Campbell. There was also a History Trail Challenge, a walk-through of campus students could take individually or with a friend and share their findings on social media. 

Among Sunday offerings — a tour of the chapel, a well-being pathway, a “develop your talents” pathway and a trivia game show. Monday’s schedule gets a bit more robust, with students having the opportunity to meet their first-year peer mentors and CUFS [freshman seminar] faculty, a “value of an education” livestream and a virtual freshman convocation that evening.

And each night (and all day Monday), the new Oscar N. Harris Student Union will be open for socially distant games and other in-person activities to round out the “welcome” experience. 

“Our students and families have been anxious to get started,” says Dr. Michelle Perez, associate vice president for student success and Tartan co-organizer. “The Tartan leaders have been excitedly engaging students and trying to ensure students feel connected. Remote social integration into our community is a challenge, but our team has been creatively meeting that challenge.”

For Tartan Team member and nursing junior Andrew Bremmer, the opportunity to take part in the program during perhaps the most unique “Welcome Week” in Campbell history was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. 

“I have always felt that first impressions are a huge deal when it comes to people’s opinions, especially a college,” he says. “I feel like the welcoming attitude of the campus and its community is an important piece for making the students feel comfortable. It’s important that new students take pride in learning a whole new environment and experience so that their growth can be exponential as they continue at Campbell.”

As for all the new policies in place — mask wearing, social distance, one-way hallways and no large gatherings — Bremmer says the new students are taking it all in stride. 

“The student body has embraced the new policies and has been understanding of why they have been put into place,” he says. “We feel that our choices now have a greater effect than ever before. This has made these new changes a challenge to get used to but will soon become a comfortable reality for much of our community.”