15 leaders, nine sessions, two days, one summer.
Lined up in red shirts stamped with the SMU logo, 15 SMU students serving as Orientation Leaders for the summer of 2016 greet the expectant faces of new incoming students in the Hughes-Trigg Ballroom. Having been preparing for new students since January, the group takes a collect deep breath before beginning their introductions.
This group is on a mission; a mission to show new and transfer students that SMU is home.
“Our biggest job is providing [new students] with the knowledge to have a great time at SMU,” says Orientation Leader Sara Whitely, an incoming sophomore at SMU. “Our goal is to talk to students and connect with them while being there to answer questions and hopefully positively influence their first SMU experience.”
This summer, SMU once again holds its annual orientation program entitled AARO for both incoming students and transfer students preparing to become mustangs. While each AARO session involves a chance to meet one-on-one with academic advisors and registration tips, this program also offers programming led by 15 SMU students who serve as orientation leaders for the entire program.
These student-leaders, who have been preparing for months for the arrival of new students, all chose to commit their time to welcoming incoming mustangs to the SMU family. Beginning on June 24 with the first group of new students, the leaders began to put everything they have been preparing for into action. Why? To give back to the school that gives so much to them.
“I want to have a positive impact on the incoming students and serve as a role model for the entire class,” says Orientation Leader and incoming sophomore Davis Wells.
“My orientation was great- I wanted replicate mine,” says Wells when asked about why he chose to become and Orientation Leader. “I enjoyed meeting people through AARO and Mustang Corral when I was a freshman.”
For some leaders, it was the students that served as an example for them during their AARO sessions when they were freshman that changed the way that they looked at SMU and felt being a part of the campus community.
“I didn’t want to come to SMU and going through orientation, I had a negative attitude, thinking I would transfer after one semester,” says Jacqueline Mann-McCullick, Orientation Leader and incoming sophomore. “After going through orientation and seeing how much the Orientation leaders loved SMU, I was motivated to get involved and I turned out to really like it here… I want to make new students feel that way too.”
While all leaders agree that being a part of AARO is an extremely rewarding experience, there are some challenges that come with being a part of this exciting time for incoming students.
“The parents ask the toughest questions,” laughs Wells. “They are the most persistent.”
“I think the most challenging part is that there are so many different people coming from so many different walks of life,” says Mann-McCullick. “We are going to try the best we can to connect to every single person.”
Yet despite the challenges, the group of Orientation Leaders all agree that the job is worth it, and that there are many things about being a leader that no one seems to know.
“We all live on the same floor and live on campus with the students during the summer,” says Whitely. “We have been preparing for this since January- we had a class every Tuesday last semester for two hours and since the first of June, we have been working every day from 9-5… there is a lot that goes into it!”
However, the most apparent and important part of AARO, says Orientation Leader James “Peach” Kuchler, is that students feel that SMU is the right place for them.
“I hope people realize we love this school,” says Kuckler. “We hope we can make everyone acquainted because we were all in their shoes at one time.”
“It’s nice being a part of something bigger,” adds Mann-McCullick, “and it’s nice to know that 15 of us can impact 1500 new students.”
For prospective student wanting to know more about AARO, visit http://www.smu.edu/StudentAffairs/NewStudent/AAROFY.