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Rolling out the welcome mat with special orientation programs and relationship-building activities for new and returning students at the start of each academic year is a hallmark of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s focus on student success.

For UW Oshkosh’s first-year class of nearly 2,400—many of whom graduated high school amid the chaos of the ongoing pandemic—the importance of getting off to a strong start was even more important than ever this fall.

“We have a responsibility to set every student up for success in the best way possible. The access to education mission of UWO is nothing if it is not paired with success,” said Art Munin, interim vice chancellor of student affairs and dean of students. “That is why we front-load so much into the start of fall. Everything from residence hall move-in to orientation and welcome week is intentionally designed to welcome students, help them feel part of this community, share our wide array of support resources and get them moving in a positive direction as they start their classes.”

First-year students Emma Arent of Kimberly, Austin Dixon of Wauwatosa and Molly Johnson of Fond du Lac have all taken advantage of some of these key resources as they settled into college life at UWO.

Enma Arent at Devil’s Lake State Park.

Scaling new heights

With a plan in mind to study nursing in college, Arent took rigorous science classes at Kimberly High School, as well as four money-saving Cooperative Academic Partnership Program (CAPP) courses for college credit with UWO. She also ran track and cross country and took part in a wide variety of clubs.

Arent knew of UWO’s reputation for a quality nursing program. She also knew she didn’t want to go too far away from home for college. An in-person tour of the Oshkosh campus sealed the deal.

“I really liked the campus, and I really liked the size,” she said. “My tour guide just happened to be a nursing student. It was really good to talk to somebody who knew about the college.”

During her Titan Takeoff orientation, Arent learned about the opportunity to go on an adventure retreat with other incoming students in August to get a head start on making friends and getting to know faculty and staff.

Arent and her twin sister, Paige, who also was starting her journey at UWO, jumped at the opportunity to go hiking, rock climbing and rappelling on a trip to Devil’s Lake State Park with their friends and soon-to-be roommates.

“We love all the outdoorsy stuff,” she said. “It was a good way to get to know people better, which was fun.”

As the semester began, Arent took advantage of another opportunity to get off to a good start. At the Taste of UW Oshkosh and Student Involvement Fair she learned about volunteer opportunities and will soon be putting in service hours required for her nursing program with the Cabinet food pantry for students located in Reeve Union.

Austin Dixon (third from left) at TAP.

Tapping into support

As a student at Wauwatosa East High School, Austin Dixon also was quite familiar with UWO since his parents are alumni and he had taken part in PreCollege programs in middle and high school to become familiar with the college experience and explore career options.

“I heard my mom and dad talk about college and I wondered about what it would be like,” Dixon said.

In June and July, he took part in UWO’s intensive Titan Advantage Program (TAP) to provide incoming first-year students with the secrets to success through individualized instruction and support. To get around campus, he took advantage of another opportunity—free bike rental from the Outdoor Adventure Center at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center (SRWC).

“It was fun to go to classes in the summer. I learned how to navigate campus and I learned some study skills,” Dixon said. “It helped me get better acclimated to college and to learn how to deal with some of the worries and stressors.”

The self-described introvert carried those lessons and even a few friends from TAP into the fall semester.

Dixon also turned his familiarity with the SRWC into a student job at the front desk greeting other students and answering the phone. As he continues to settle in, he is considering a major in communications or radio TV film.

Molly Johnson (left) at Fond du Lac student org fair

Finding a new way

As a first-generation college student, Molly Johnson stepped onto the Fond du Lac campus in September looking for a place to reset.

Johnson struggled a bit in high school, especially in math. She wasn’t very involved in extracurricular activities, although she was on the volleyball and track teams her freshman and sophomore years at Fond du Lac High School. She also went to some Key Club meetings but did not take part regularly.

“I always wanted to be more involved, but there was so little time and I never felt very comfortable at my big high school,” she explained.

As she began to consider her options after high school, a friend’s mother shared her positive experiences at UWO’s Fond du Lac campus, where the student–to-faculty/staff ratio is low.

“I like the small campus and the one-on-one attention that can help you succeed,” Johnson said.

The uncertainty of the pandemic also played a part as Johnson thought saving money by living at home was a good idea, especially since she wasn’t sure if she would end up having to switch to online classes if she moved away for school.

Last May, Johnson took a virtual tour of the campus and then attended an open house in August. She enjoyed getting to know her future classmates and all the resources offered for support.

Even before the first day of classes, she was looking into joining student government and applied for and got the position of records director. Then at the Student Involvement Fair in September, Johnson learned about the Multicultural Club and soon became president of that student organization.

So far her classes are going well and although she hasn’t needed any extra help, she feels a sense of security just knowing tutoring services are readily available. She has set her sights on earning an associate degree as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree, perhaps in criminology.

“Anyone looking at my grades in high school would likely say, ‘How would she be successful in college?’” Johnson said. “But UWO is a place I can be the person I always wanted to be. It’s putting me on the right path to be the best version of myself.”

Top photo: UWO first-year student Emma Arent (left), of Kimberly, joined a UW Oshkosh Titan Take Off adventure retreat to Devil’s Lake State Park to get to know other students better even before her first semester started in September.

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