Before moving into the dorms, before starting classes and before even shaking hands with many of their future classmates, 70 incoming University of New Orleans students gathered over two to three days with one objective in mind: To learn how to be leaders.
Fifty freshmen and 20 new transfer students this month took advantage of an ongoing Privateer tradition to help involve new UNO students in campus leadership—almost before they do anything else.
At the off-campus Privateer Camp, Aug. 1-3, and Transfer Retreat for Leadership, Aug. 1-2, students participated in group activities like ice breakers, skits and games. They gathered at Camp Istrouma near Baton Rouge for discussions on leadership and involvement, diversity and wellness, learned about UNO’s student organizations and received an introduction to other resources available to students seeking to find their place.
The transition to college is not always intuitive, said Christy Heaton, director of Orientation and First Year Programs at UNO. These programs enable university staff to provide students with resources and relationships they need to help them identify what they want out of their university experience while giving them the tools go after it.
“They really are getting a jump start to be involved, but also to being academically successful,” Heaton said.
Heaton, of UNO’s Office of Enrollment Services, and Dale O’Neill, director of the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership, joined forces in 2010 to create Privateer Camp. It was such a success, that the following year, they created a similar retreat targeted to the specific needs of transfer students.
“Transfer students have a lot of different life experiences,” Heaton said. “We want them to know that we value that—UNO values that. And typical age freshmen are going to learn from them.”
For Leah Primeaux, a student who transferred to UNO last year after attending three other schools, the experience helped her feel she’d found her home. “Before UNO, I didn’t think I would get the college experience,” Primeaux said, “and UNO has given it to me.”
Primeaux, a psychology major starting her junior year this week, participated in the 2015 retreat and returned this year to be a mentor. She said that until getting to UNO, her experience with higher education left her feeling disconnected. She was a first-generation student for whom even the idea of going to college required leaping a mental hurdle. So when she heard about the transfer retreat during orientation last summer, she signed up.
There, she bonded with other students with like experiences and found she not only was not alone, she had the ingredients and the opportunity to be a leader. Today, Primeaux is vice president of fundraising for the Transfer Student Organization, serves as student mentor for Student Support Services and is a member of Leadership Cabinet.
“I have found so much of my identity in having access to education,” she said.
So far, data shows that the camps are doing the job of helping students become connected, involved and successful. Over the years, fall-to-fall retention has been as high as 11 percent more for students who participated in the camps compared to their peers, Heaton said.
The retreats are part of a suite of experiences UNO offers to its new students, complimenting summer orientation sessions and Privateer Plunge, a series of activities offered to students over the first six weeks of classes that are designed to help involve students, giving them outlets for leadership, support and fun.