When a family walked toward Randolph Hall early on a Wednesday morning, luggage in hand, Radwan Jarrar was ready and waiting.
“Good morning! Welcome to Mary Washington, your new home,” he said.
Jarrar, a senior at the University of Mary Washington, is one of 35 orientation leaders, known as OLs, tasked with easing the transition to college life for nearly 900 new students.
“I want to have them interact as much as they can and feel comfortable coming to me with questions,” he said. “That’s the foundation of being an OL to begin with.”
This year, orientation at UMW took a different format than past years. Incoming students and their parents spent two days on campus at the end of June, learning about campus resources, becoming acquainted with student life and traditions and meeting faculty and administrators. Students also registered for their first semester of classes and met with academic advisers.
“This orientation was created to establish an early connection to UMW,” said Megan Higginbotham, assistant director of student activities and engagement and orientation coordinator. “We want students to have their questions answered and feel confident and prepared to return to UMW in the fall.”
Although the spirit of new student orientation hasn’t changed throughout the years, two-time OL Bethany Alley ’15 noticed one subtle distinction.
“This year, there is a lot more focus on students,” she said.
Alley, an English major in the elementary education program, drew on her own experience as an incoming student to motivate her interactions as an OL.
“Being a freshman was a bit overwhelming for me,” she said. “My orientation leader helped me through. I want to help people feel comfortable transitioning into a new environment.”
Alley and Jarrar started early each morning to put incoming students at ease, dancing on Campus Walk, giving directions to campus buildings and welcoming students and parents to the morning session in Dodd Auditorium. Despite storms and 90-degree weather, they knew orientation was the first chance to show new students what life at Mary Washington is all about.
“The No. 1 thing that comes to mind is our sense of community and how close we are,” Jarrar said.
Less than a year after transferring to UMW, Jarrar has become immersed in the community atmosphere. He quickly became involved in the Student Government Association (SGA) and was elected director of community outreach in April.
For Alley, a publicity co-chair for UMW’s Performing Arts Club and a volunteer with COAR student community outreach, orientation exposes students to the myriad of opportunities they will have to connect with each other, their faculty and the community.
“There are so many opportunities to find your niche here,” she said. “It feels like such a family community.”
And Alley and Jarrar will be ready again on August 23, along with a host of other OLs and volunteers, to welcome incoming students and help them move into their residence halls.