Freedom and fear - the first year

Sep 30, 2005

College freshmen experience a heady mixture of freedom and fear their first year away from home. Four Kettering Residence Hall Assistants offer advice for surviving it.

Every incoming freshman at every college and university knows that arriving on campus for the first time can be scary, intimidating and exciting. Coupled with the new found freedom of living away from home is the overwhelming fear of getting lost, getting bad grades and getting along with a LOT of new people.

Incoming freshmen at Kettering are no different. They show up with all the clean underwear and favorite snack foods Mom could squeeze into the family car, and anticipation of the coming year.

To help them navigate that year, their residence hall RAs (Resident Assistants) are on hand to guide, advise and offer support. Four B-Section RAs have weighed-in on the subject of the first year at Kettering, and they have some very sage advice for incoming freshmen. (B-Section refers to the second half of Kettering's incoming freshman class - A-Section students, who arrived in July, have just left for their first work rotation as part of their professional co-op education.)

On what to expect the first year and what is scary about being a freshman, the consensus among the four RAs questioned was: new people, a new environment, new freedoms and the responsibilities that go with them.

First-time RA Tracy Schmitz of Shelby Township, Mich., feels that freshmen "have a lot of choices to make and have nobody to tell them what to do. Not knowing anybody, being away from home and the lifestyle you're used to and not knowing your way around," are probably the most unnerving issues for freshmen according to Schmitz.

"College life is the first time freshmen begin to figure out who they really are," added RA Adam Bourgeau of Goodrich, Mich.

Meeting people from different backgrounds was a common theme in the freshmanexperience. As for other universal experiences, there was a lot of agreement on sleeping through a class and missing a test.

Academics featured prominently in answers related to the most common mistakes made by freshmen. "They party too much and don't get involved in campus activities," said Maria Moscoso, of Ecuador. "Not studying enough, if at all, for a test," said Bourgeau. "They slack off to the point where they forget to study," added Alan Delos Santos, of Hawaii.

Schmitz felt that reluctance to approach faculty members about academics was the biggest mistake a freshman could make. "It may be intimidating at first," she said, "but since we have the option of close contact with our professors, freshmen should learn to make use of that right away."

As for the "smartest thing freshmen can do," it was unanimous: STUDY but make time to make friends.

Their advice for success? "Have lots of fun but never miss class," said Moscoso. On the fun side Schmitz advised "Get involved in campus activities," while Bourgeau stuck to the academics. "Make sure to study, do your homework and make wise decisions in time management," he said.

And that is what RAs do: they give advice, give a nudge here and there to help freshmen stay on track and give out tissues when the need arises. "Support" was the word most often used when asked how RAs help freshmen navigate that first term.

The second was "caring." Delos Santos described the RA job duties as "explaining to them how to succeed in college, like how to develop study habits, meet people and make good decisions, and then be there for them when they eventually manage to do not one single thing you advised."


So despite all the newness, freshmen at Kettering and across the country have a ready-made ally in their RA - that older student down the hall who has seen it, heard and maybe done it all.

Written by Dawn Hibbard