Wide-eyed, excited, maybe a bit overwhelmed, new URI students come to freshman orientation this month

Posted on
KINGSTON, R.I. – June 18, 2014 – The chant, “Rhody, Rhody, Rhody, Rams, Rams, Rams,” echoes off the buildings on the University of Rhode Island’s quadrangle as several hundred incoming freshmen are in full throat. Their conductors are 30 orientation leaders.

As the spirited sounds travel across and down Kingston Hill, parents are getting their introduction to URI and are as wide-eyed and excited as the students. Some are even a little sad as their children take their first big step away from home.

It’s freshman orientation at URI, and by the end of the month, 3,100 students will have learned during eight, two-day sessions how to succeed academically, live with roommates and ask for help for anything from a difficult class to a difficult relationship. They register for classes, are photographed for identification cards and eat with their peers in the main campus dining hall.

Matt Dias, a freshman from Mendon, Mass., who will begin an accounting major in the fall, described orientation as “absolutely awesome. This is a very open community where it is easy to make friends. All of the activities were just about perfect. I can’t wait to come here.”

In almost every case, the incoming students learn in settings that are fun, challenging and participatory, including an opening-day play featuring the orientation leaders in roles as Jacques Strap, a basketball recruit, Whinella Bratting, whose friends call her Whiney, Professor Gene Yus, Ivan Welborn from Cambridge, Ben Through-it, a student mentor, Seth O’Scope from Braintree and Violet Femme.

At the same time, their parents become familiar with campus life, and even deal with some the more challenging parts of university life—financing an education and learning to let go.

And whether it’s bright and sunny or overcast and rainy, an observer can’t help but notice the smiles, hear the laughter and enjoy the exuberance of the incoming students.

That’s due in large part to the skill, knowledge and enthusiasm for all things Rhody exhibited by the orientation leaders, all of whom are students, or those who just graduated a mere month ago.

Selena Evora amd Denzel Depina, both graduates of the Blackstone Academy Charter School and residents of Pawtucket, enjoyed their orientation experience.

“I met a whole bunch of different people,” Evora said. “Everyone is so fun, and OK, so I am a little nervous, but everyone is so nice. I feel very welcome.”

Depina said he had to get used to a bigger school, as Blackstone Academy had fewer students than his freshman orientation session.

“I am really looking forward to taking different classes and going to class,” Depina said. “The orientation leaders are all great, all very willing to help.”

Elecia Cardarelli, a South Kingstown resident who will study kinesiology in the fall, is excited about being at URI even though she grew up in the shadow of the campus. She’ll live in a campus residence hall.

“I like how everyone is opening up,” she said during a break in her session. “It feels comfortable when people let their guard down.”

West Harrison, N.Y. resident Ashlee Milone, will begin her elementary education major in the fall. She said she was nervous about starting college, but she met her roommates during orientation and settled in quickly.

“I am really excited about coming here now,” said the former high school cheerleader. “I learned all about the clubs here. I knew I wouldn’t have time to commit to being a cheerleader at URI, but I know there many activities that would work. The orientation leaders are really nice, really funny.”

Sean Hatch, who will major in business said he had a blast at orientation.

“This will be one of the most memorable events of my life. I can’t wait for the fall to start, to go to class and to meet new people.”

It’s not just the incoming students being transformed by the orientation experience.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I have ever done,” said Sean Spellman, an orientation leader from East Providence who will enter his senior year at URI in the fall.

Spellman and his orientation team had just finished an exercise called Opening Minds, Opening Doors, during which leaders challenge themselves and the freshmen to confront their perceptions of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and even the language they use and the jokes they tell.

“I went through this exercise my freshman year, and I had a moment of clarity when I realized this is my place,” he said.

During the exercise, he to told the students he was given respect as soon as he came to URI. “I got comfortable in my own skin. Right now you are members of this special URI community, where you will be leaders, and it will be your job to welcome people. This is very special place where you can follow your own path.”

Johan Molina, originally from Providence, now lives in Narragansett. He will be a senior at URI in the fall.

“This is as much about learning about yourself as it is teaching freshmen about URI and themselves,” the orientation leader said. “When you are a freshman, you hear things, but you don’t really listen. Now I don’t just hear, I listen.”