Scavenger Hunt Enlivens Orientation

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Two hundred and fifty freshmen and some of their parents traveled to San Francisco during the first weekend in July to attend Discover USF and participate in the GO (Get Oriented) Game, two new orientation programs that were created in an effort to make the freshman summer orientation friendlier and more effective to incoming students. Peter Novak, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, spearheaded the new programs and the revision of Web Track. Novak utilized his performing and visual arts background to create a video that explained and showed how Discover USF and the GO Game worked this summer. More than a shiny view of the freshman experience at USF, the optional weekend program resonated with some freshmen who were able to assimilate to portions of life as students in San Francisco.

Laura Waldron, a freshman media studies major and university scholar from Phoenix, chose to attend Discover USF and participate in the GO Game. Waldron traveled to San Francisco during the first weekend of July for a preview of dorm life.  The day after hearing Rev. Privett’s convocation speech about embracing the future and “assuring parents that their kids were in good hands,” a resident advisor told Waldron and her team members, “You have four hours to conquer the city.”

Dubbed a “high-tech exploration,” students were equipped with a web-enabled cell phones that gave them instructions on their various tasks, but also timed them.  Tasks included recreating their favorite music video on a city street, doing yoga in Dolores Park, making a MUNI postcard, riding BART, convincing a complete stranger to trust them and speaking to the actors that Novak hired to discuss the history of USF and the immigrant experience in San Francisco.  Neighborhoods included in the game were Haight Ashbury, Union Square and the Mission. There were14 teams, with eight to 10 students on each team. Waldron said, “We [her team] were so into it…we all ran around and it got competitive.”  Her team earned the most points for completing their clues in the least amount of time, which earned her and her eight teammates fake mustaches, a rubber chicken, a trophy and the satisfaction of having completed their first challenge of navigating the city and its transit.

The class of 2013 was the first class to test Discover USF and Web Track and the first students to participate in the GO Game. Novak said, “Fast Track was not a good program.” The three main goals of the new orientation system are to assist student with setting academic expectations, making friends and getting to know both the city and the university. Discover USF and the GO Game were not mandatory; however, Novak estimated that 250 students, or 25 percent of the freshman class, opted to attend.  Discover USF included one academic lecture, Mythbusters, which explored the most popular major at USF: the undeclared major.  A workshop for parents tackled topics like safety and financial aid. The weekend orientation cost students $100 to attend, but included housing in the dorms.

Kate Elston, a USF alumna, recently finished filming and editing another promotional video for the College of Arts and Sciences that reviews the student experience through a series of interviews with current students, administrators and professors. Elston recalled her own freshman orientation experience as she said, “Orientation felt like camp. I remember being shuffled from place to place. Part of it was nice, it was a safe atmosphere and you felt like you were getting to know people. But it felt like you were being babied. I tried to make this film lighthearted, but informational and funny at the same time. I hope they [new students] have a better understanding of what will make them successful at USF.” Elston’s video features a wide variety of voices at USF including an athlete’s perspective and some advice from graduating seniors. Her film is part of the larger effort to open up communication with freshmen and transfer students about how to make the most out of their college careers.

Of the first Discover USF and GO Game, Novak said, “It was very successful and we will do it next year.” He was not sure of the neighborhoods that the scavenger hunt would take place in. Waldron said, “I thought it was awesome because I like exploring the city and it was good for meeting people.”

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