University of Mary Washington students officially arrive on the Fredericksburg campus on Wednesday, Aug. 22, but incoming freshman Claire Zhang of Ashburn, Va., already has made connections.
Zhang is one of 40 new students who participated in Pre-Flight, an inaugural pre-orientation program for first-year students.
“I could probably tell you everyone’s name,” said Zhang pointing to the dozens of students playing kickball behind her.
Just four days earlier, she would have struggled to name any.
The students, along with staff members and graduate assistants, spent four days in the Virginia mountains, divided into a service group and an outdoor adventure group, then returned to UMW for two days of teambuilding activities.
“Initially they were a bit shy about connecting and getting to know each other,” said Mark Mermelstein, director of campus recreation and the leader of the outdoor adventure group. “By the end of the week, it was a really, really tight-knit group.”
While in the mountains south of Waynesboro, the outdoor adventure group tackled a four-mile hike, zip lines, summer tubing down a ski slope and a rock wall.
“The zip lining and tubing were a nice experience,” said freshman Ray Celeste Tanner of King George, Va. “We were able to bond over it.”
The service group volunteered at a Charlottesville-area community center, painting, landscaping and beautifying the area.
“Service is an integral part of the UMW experience so giving our incoming students a chance to serve from the very beginning is important,” said Christina Eggenberger, director of service in the Center for Honor, Leadership and Service.
The students hoped to get a head start when they chose to go on the trip before the official start of new student orientation on Wednesday. “I wanted to make friends before orientation,” Tanner said.
For Abigail Fleming of Annandale, Va., Pre-Flight meant a chance to get to know the campus better.
“It helps you come together,” she said of the experience. “You share a personal connection.”
The students were divided into eight cabins, each led by a staff member or graduate assistant. The groups cooked dinner together each night.
“With the grad assistants, it’s kind of like having an older sibling there,” Tanner said.
Fleming, Tanner and Zhang all said Pre-Flight made them feel more comfortable going into orientation – and gave them familiar faces across campus.
“That was one of our goals,” Mermelstein said, “to make sure they were connected to each other and to the university.”