SVSU program acclimates freshmen to campus and community

New college students carry a lot of anxieties going into their freshmen year: How will I meet people? Will I fit in? Where do I go for class? What is there to do around here?

Riley Hupfer, director for the Center for Community Engagement at SVSU, seeks to quell those anxieties and help students feel right at home on campus and in the surrounding communities. The summer before freshmen year, students are invited to participate in two separate programs to help acclimate them to college and the community.

Through SOAR, Student Orientation & Academic Registration, incoming freshmen learn about their major, financial aid, and how to get involved on campus. Going one step further, students also are invited to attend the Freshmen Summer Service Program. Hupfer says the Freshmen Summer Service Program takes place immediately before SOAR. The Summer Service Program emphasizes “the importance of being in a new community and being an active citizen” both while in college and beyond.  

The Summer Service program started in 2017 after looking at similar programs offered around the country — the 7 Generations program at William & Mary University is similar to SVSU’s. Hupfer believes it is important for incoming students to be introduced to the cities and attractions nearby SVSU right away.

Hupfer leads the 2-day, 2-night program as a way for new students to meet each other, find their classes, explore the nearby communities, and experience a full day of community service. Students check in on the first night where ice-breakers are performed to get to know each other. Hupfer is an SVSU alumnus and gives the students a casual tour of campus — he points out where he liked to hangout and study. Afterward, the students hear about the community agency where they’ll be volunteering for their service project. Students also get to sleep in dorms during the duration of the program.

This past June, the program partnered with Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy and worked on its pollinator project by cleaning vacant lots in Saginaw. For lunch and dinner, Hupfer says he likes to make a point of going to local spots to eat. For lunch, he took them to Old Town Drive-In in Saginaw. Once the service day ended at 4 p.m., students were treated to Castaways in Bay City for dinner.

Before heading back to SVSU, Hupfer took the students to Bay City State Park “to see a local place where they can get outside or just enjoy.” Before the hitting the hay, a bonfire on campus was started to reflect on the day’s experiences, expectations about the upcoming school year, card games or just hang out. On the last day, students either return home or attend SOAR.

“I think just getting them to understand our community around us is important while they’re here; whether it’s 4 years, 5 years, or graduate schooling,” Hupfer says. “The places they can go, both for service and then recreation, just to get something to eat, housing options … they really get a good feel for what the community is around here”.

When asked about impacts the program has made, Hupfer explained he has witnessed students continue with engagement on campus through various clubs and organizations, “One is a vice president for our Habitat Club, another is in our Optimistic Club and they do community service all the time”.

Emily Dioette, an Exercise Science major at SVSU and Brown City native, started with the program in 2017 as a freshman. Feeling anxious, she almost did not attend and started to head home. Due to spotty cell service and no GPS, she stayed. “It ended up being one the greatest decisions of my life,” Dioette explains. “This program really did have a huge impact not only on me as a person, but also on my career at SVSU. … Being a site leader this summer was an amazing experience that has impacted me positively.”

In 2017, the program partnered with the Saginaw-Shiawassee Habitat for Humanity. Dioette’s experiences were “nothing but positive” and have inspired her to help the Saginaw community more. A favorite moment came in 2017 when the group assisted in fixing a home, “The tile was basically cemented to the floor, and we had to pry it up by swinging a hammer full force into a chisel.” Despite the exhaustive work and noise, Dioette left the site feeling accomplished. “My group was awesome and we had so much fun talking and joking while we worked.”

Bay City State Park has become a regular spot for Dioette since 2017. “Since then I have gone to the park every chance I’ve gotten. I love hiking the trails and even just sitting at the beach. I was very excited to get to show it to the incoming freshmen on the 2019 trip.”

“These students come in having a network of other students who are interested in similar things,” Hupfer says. “And they also now have a connection to a staff member on campus who deals with involvement.” Having these experiences together—working service, getting acquainted with one another, and exposure to the area—has really helped for new students to acclimate.  

In the future, Hupfer would like more student site leaders to get involved with the program and to see more opportunities. “I’d love to expand to have more dates in the summer where more students can participate to when we have hundreds to over a thousand incoming students.” There are no 2020 plans yet, but Hupfer would like to host two camps.

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