Think back to the first day of freshman year of college. Emotions ran rampant — anxiety, anticipation, fear, excitement. The experience is different for everyone, but for new students at the University of Wisconsin, the size and scope of the university can be understandably overwhelming.
According to its website, UW had an enrollment of nearly 44,000 students for fall 2017, about 29,000 of which were undergraduate students. Those numbers alone are enough to initiate quite the shock at how large our beloved university actually is, and it’s worth noting that what the university website refers to as its “main campus” is still a whopping 936 acres.
No matter where students come from, navigating the subtleties of campus — like how to find a classroom in Humanities, how the bus system works and even things like finding the nearest dining hall in between classes — can be challenging to say the least. Since I’m from Illinois, I had only formally visited campus twice before arriving for move-in day in August.
For nearly all of my first semester in Madison, I struggled with new challenges I was unprepared for. The constant frustration I faced when trying to catch the 80, the continuous struggle I encountered trying to find a study space where students didn’t just sit and talk and the utter confusion of how class dynamics actually worked were just a few of the things I had to figure out on my own my first semester.
Of course these problems may seem trivial — especially to those who are far removed from the process of getting oriented on campus — but over time they add up to be significant stressors. There were often times where I would call my mom asking for her guidance on something, to which she would respond, “I’m not really sure, you should probably ask someone.” The recurring problem with this answer, while logical and understandable coming from someone who never attended UW, is that I didn’t know who to ask.
Academic advisors are great for help with academics, but who was I supposed to ask about where to go tailgate on game day? And who could tell me where the best place to get a taco is? Or who should I have asked to figure out the best route to get up Bascom without feeling like I just ran a marathon?
Put simply, a mentoring program where first-year students could learn about everything the university doesn’t explicitly state could be extremely useful in helping new students feel a little less overwhelmed when they first arrive on campus.
Many high schools have successful peer-mentor programs like Link Crew, a leadership program offered throughout the U.S. and Canada where upperclassmen are linked with freshmen to learn about academics, football games, homecoming, exams and all of the new experiences that come with a new school.
Although this kind of program may be unrealistic in a college setting, a program in which first-year students could even just reach out to an upperclassmen through email or text to ask about whatever they’re struggling with could be extremely helpful to the majority of freshmen that have no idea how to get through college, let alone the University of Wisconsin.
All of the first-year students who come to UW already knowing upperclassmen usually come in with the advantage to reach out when they need help with physics, or restaurant recommendations or whatever their dilemma may be. But for those who don’t have that advantage, having a resource to answer those more random or personal questions that often pop up throughout their first semester at the university could make a real difference.
As the saying goes, change is good. But change is also confusing, and overwhelming and can sometimes lead to a really challenging few months. A mentoring program for first-year students could help freshmen make the best out of change, and maybe even help them enjoy it.
Courtney Degen ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.