Advice about transitioning to college life: you may already know you need

by Ward Mullens, Published September 03, 2009

YPSILANTI —More than 2,200 students, and their parents, will descend on Eastern Michigan University the weekend of Sept. 5-6 for fall orientation and move-in.

It’s been a while since most parents have lived on a college campus and knowing what to bring for that first semester depends largely on who you talk to.

Is there just one item that every college student cannot live without? Is there a short list of things that can really make life easier? Retailers would have students and parents believe there is and that they sell it. But ask the people who live and work on a campus and they may tell you what a student needs cannot be found in any store.

"The most important item a student can bring to campus is free. It's an open mind; a willingness to experience people unlike themselves and a passion to develop a global perspective on all they encounter,” said Bernice Lindke, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at EMU.

“They need to come with a clean slate,” said Glenna Frank Miller, assistant vice president for student affairs and coordinator of EMU’s orientation weekend. “The first year at college is the best gift you can ever get. It’s an unbelievable opportunity.”

Here are a few tips from EMU faculty, staff, students and parents to put on that clean slate (These words of wisdom are not in order of importance):

• “Join a student club or organization,” said Jack Kay, EMU’s new provost and executive vice president. “Eastern Michigan University has clubs and activities to match everyone's interest. Students who get involved in campus activities feel more connected and have a higher graduation rate. Whether your interest is social justice, religion, politics, or dance, we have a club, organization or activity for you.”

• “With the ease of communicating these days via e-mail and cell phone, good old snail mail still ranks high on the list for brightening college students’ days,” said Karen and Michael Paciorek, professors at EMU and parents of college students.

“Our sons have particularly enjoyed getting mail from home. Try and send a funny card, photos or news from home every week or so. Just don’t expect to get mail in return.”

• “Our first thought was to keep in touch with e-mail,” said Tom Venner, dean of EMU’s College of Arts and Sciences and father of a college student. “That doesn’t work – you don’t want to respond questions on e-mail. So what we did was set a time to call. We intentionally want him to have his space, so that he didn’t feel we were trying to monitor every moment, but just once a week, at a set time.”

• “Here’s what I’ve learned from not only watching 30 years’ worth of students at three different universities begin their college experience, but also from experiencing that transition personally with my three children,” said Kathy Orscheln, director of admissions at EMU. “One. If you’re worried about whether your children will make friends at college, think about this. If your son or daughter made friends at high school or summer camps, they make them here, too. Two. Make sure your student gets a job on campus. Students learn so much from those campus jobs and benefit from having another set of friends on campus, as well as a group of faculty/staff who care about their success. Three. Encourage your students to engage in some type of exercise or workout at the recreation center. College can be stressful and the best way to deal with the stress can be to spend some time every day doing physical activity.”

While there is plenty of advice, Miller said what students should have are things they should already possess.

“There is a great anonymous quote that I think says it all,” said Miller. “’There are two gifts parents must give their children. One is roots, the other is wings!’”

Ward Mullens

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