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The Evolution of New Maverick Orientation

Maverick orientation has changed drastically in UT Arlington’s history. The process that once required students to dial in their schedules over a telephone wire has evolved into something much more extraordinary. 

Alumnus Stephen “Bear” Lunce ’01, ’11 works in the University Center and witnessed the transformation of orientations. He recalled his personal orientation experience in 1997 lasted a couple of hours in the morning and concluded with a campus tour.

“The big deal about the tour was Ransom Hall and the 24-hour computer lab. I graduated in 2001, and I still didn’t have a computer,” Lunce said.

He said that students lined up in front of the Rio Grande room to dial their unique course codes into telephones. Students planned their schedule with a course catalog, a worksheet, and a pencil. If there were any mistakes, they were instructed to return to their advisor and get a signature for the new schedule.

“It was a mess. That was the longest line I waited in,” Lunce said.

Meighan Burke, assistant director of New Maverick Orientation, described a major change that led orientation to become what it is now. She said that five or six years ago, New Maverick Orientation was moved to the Division of Student Affairs.  This leadership shift allowed students make a stronger connection with the school.  

“Parents and students find it more enjoyable, and they have more exposure to campus life. It’s now more of an experience than a registration day,” Burke said.

According to Lunce, the program was previously approached from a business angle rather than the personal angle Student Affairs currently strives for. He said that Student Affairs approaches it with the student in mind.

The university’s growth created a demand for employees in the orientation office. A spike in enrollment allowed the department to quickly grow from a two-man-operation to an office with five professional staff, 18 orientation leaders and several interns. David Duvall, director of New Maverick Orientation, says they are discussing plans to hire an additional crew of orientation leaders specializing in transfer orientations.

According to the New Maverick Orientation office, UT Arlington enrolls approximately 1,000 more first-semester transfer students than freshmen each year. This year, the university implemented a new requirement for transfer students to attend the historically optional orientation session. The number of orientations being held each summer has grown due to the requirement.

The growth of orientation programs is especially evident in the transfer orientations. The involvement fair that showcases various organizations grew from 20 booths in previous years to its maximum capacity (due to fire codes) of 80 this year. The growth is so large that there is a waiting list for additional organizations to set up at the involvement fairs.

Students that attended the fair this summer were enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate in campus organizations.

“I’m excited about being involved, because it’s not only about school,” said freshman Lisa Marimira.

Aside from their crucial role in orientation sessions, the Student Alumni Association held a booth at each fair to advertise benefits of membership within the organization. Students that signed up receive a 10 percent bookstore discount for two semesters, a shirt that allows them access to free gifts throughout the year, and they became eligible for Alumni Association scholarships.

“We’re just trying to connect them to the Alumni Association before they graduate,” Raina Ore, Vice President of SAA said.

Some freshmen expressed their eagerness to join Greek organizations after attending the fair. Without hesitation, freshmen Christian Lopez and Randy Valazquez answered in unison that they were excited to begin at UT Arlington so that they could “rush” a fraternity.

Duvall said that organizations were hesitant to attend the transfer students’ involvement fair when the orientations were optional, but now the organizations compete to get booths.

“Organizations weren’t coming to the involvement fair, but now we’re busting at the seams,” said Duvall.

Melissa Gonzales, an office worker for the New Maverick Orientation Office, was an orientation leader for two years. She said that the change requiring transfer students to attend orientations has been beneficial.

“They’re going to learn how all their financial aid disperses and they’re going to learn how to sign up for their classes. Whenever it wasn’t mandatory, we had a lot of students who didn’t know what they were doing, a lot of students who didn’t enroll correctly, and a lot of students who didn’t know that they had six drops in their entire undergrad career,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said that it is important for students to attend orientations, because that is when they are taught all the logistics of the university. She said that orientations create a foundation for new Mavericks to be able to succeed in their college careers.

Freshman Mina Tran said that orientation made her excited “to start life, because it’s a building block”.

“This is the first stepping stone to see what college life is, and it takes a lot of responsibility to go on and get that college degree,” Gonzales said.

In addition to implementing a transformation of orientation, UT Arlington focused on creating a welcome week, called Maverick Stampede, to establish a relationship with students early in the year. The week celebrated incoming and returning students by hosting events during the first week of school. Lunce recalled his Welcome Week experience much differently than what students experience today.

“When I was here, Welcome Week was a Mavs cook out, and that was it. If you look at Welcome Week now, there are things like a move in day and a parent and family cook out... Man dad would’ve gotten a kick out of that,” Lunce said.

According to Burke, it takes about four years to change a campus. She said the freshmen are seeing the upper classmen enjoy themselves, and this encourages freshman to have enthusiastic attitudes about being a Maverick. Burke said that the orientation staff focuses on instilling entering freshmen with school spirit, starting at orientations.

Gonzales explained some of the changes that made this summers’ orientations more successful than previous years.

“We’re a lot more spirited on day two. Now, we bring out the band and the cheerleaders, and the Student Alumni Association teaches the Alma matter and the fight song. Mr. and Ms. UTA come out and do a presentation, so they get a lot more about being a Maverick and the Maverick way as opposed to just getting talked at the entire time,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said that students staying for overnight orientations experience College Park Center immediately and receive meal vouchers for Pie 5, Diggs Tacos, or Smiling Moose Deli where they eat dinner and participate in group activities with their orientation leaders. In previous years, freshmen would gather in the Maverick Activity Center to play games and eat hamburgers.

“The freshmen like it a lot more,” Gonzales said.

Lunce said that the image of UT Arlington evolved when James Spaniolo became president. He said that before Spaniolo, it was more common to see a spirit shirt from another university than to see a UT Arlington shirt on campus.

“President Spaniolo and Dr. Frank Lamas did a great job branding the university, and the visual of that has helped change the campus culture and made it more traditional versus commuter. We’re not just that place where the three bridges cross over cooper anymore,” Lunce said.

Near the end of their final day of orientation, freshmen said that they liked the orientation sessions and were looking forward to starting at UT Arlington.

“It’s fun, and everyone’s nice. You really feel welcome,” said freshman Randy Valazquez.

According to Melissa Gonzales, the orientations are about student life, student adjustment, and problems that students may run into at college. In one session, parents and students are separated for Q&A sessions with student leaders to make conversation more open and comfortable. The sessions help parents and students by talking about what other students have gone through.

The orientation leaders host a skit that explores difficult topics that students may face as college students. The skit combines humor and lightheartedness with challenging situations, and it opens the door for students and parents to discuss tough issues.

“We’re going to be something different, and it’s really cool to see how our students who are coming in now are being introduced to that,” Lunce said.

To see a summer 2013 orientation schedule, click here.

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