Our Stories

Getting a Jump Start on College

New Willamette University students are introduced to the campus and each other during the annual Opening Days orientation program. But for some students, that's not enough. They want to make new friends in a smaller environment, get to know Willamette in a more intimate way, learn more about the community where they will live for the next four years.

Enter Jump Start, a pre-Opening Days program that allows new students to do all these things and more in a smaller setting. This year, about 70 students participated in the program, which is sponsored by the Student Activities, Multicultural Affairs, Campus Recreation and Community Service Learning offices.

"I figured this was a good way to get to know people and this area," says Sam Wong, a new student from Honolulu, Hawaii. "None of my friends who are coming here enrolled in this program, so it's helping me meet new people."

Jump Start is voluntary, and it is divided into three groups: Ohana for multicultural students; NSOCO, or New Student Orientation to Community Outreach, for those interested in community service; and Steppin' Out for students who want to experience the Oregon outdoors.

"When you talk to the students, they are so thankful that they came," says Bryan Schmidt, Campus Recreation director and leader of the Steppin' Out group. "It's just a four- or five-day program, so you wouldn't think it would have that much of an impact, but their stories are amazing about how it helped them open up."

All three groups spend their nights at the 4-H Conference Center near Salem, but they divide up during the day for activities relating to their program's theme. On the last day of Jump Start, all three groups work together on community service projects throughout the region. This year, those projects included cleaning up a neglected Japanese garden in Gresham and working at a Head Start pre-kindergarten school while meeting members of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

One morning, the Ohana students took an extensive campus tour, beyond the typical tour given by the admission office. They learned about everything from which computer labs are easiest to use, where to go if they have a problem with someone in their dorm, or who to talk with if they are stressed.

They listened carefully as one of the Ohana student leaders, Kevin Takayama '07, explained the intricacies of the Residence Life office. Justin Carr, a new student from Vancouver, Wash., was one of the quieter ones in the group, but he says he is glad he signed up. "It was nice coming to campus early and getting to know people before the Opening Days crush," he says.

Across town, the group from NSOCO was visiting Colonia Libertad, a low-income housing development for farmworkers and their families. Jaime Arredondo '05 is the community organizer at Colonia Libertad, which allows residents to run their own community with a resident board, various classes and clubs, and a vegetable garden.

The NSOCO students were all smiles as they read to and played with young children who live in the development. Sarah Devine of Corvallis, Ore., appreciated the chance to brush up on her language skills while reading to a Spanish-speaking girl. "I was working all summer, so I didn't get a chance to do the volunteer work I wanted to do," Devine says. "This was a good chance to do some of those things. It's kind of a preview for where you would want to do community service during the year."

A.J. Owens of Murrieta, Calif., says she likes the way the program orients her with Salem. "It's nice to be able to drive around and see places, even places like Target, so I can say, 'Now I know where that is.'"

On the last evening, the students from Steppin' Out seemed like a cohesive group after they had spent their days hiking around Oregon and rafting on the Deschutes River. Christopher Bush, Liana Walters, Aaron Smith and Haven Webster say they have managed to make friends across different states -- they come from Montana, California and Washington. "This is more comfortable because you don't feel like you have to bond with the first person you meet at Opening Days," Webster says. "We've already bonded with each other."