Remember that time when you trekked across a darkened campus with the Stanford Marching Band, when you cemented your first roommate contract, when you had your first bike “incident”? It may seem like a bit of a blur now, but that week was called NSO, short for New Student Orientation, and it still happens every year.
For most schools, freshman orientation is a fundamental introduction to college life. But in the case of Stanford—a school so vast, diverse, and deeply networked—undergraduate orientation is somewhat of a different proposition.
New Stanford students are granted less than a week to orient themselves to life on the Farm. Their first real immersion into Cardinal quirkiness begins with the infamous Band Run. New students also attend open houses, performances, and lectures that keep them occupied until the launch of formal classes.
But there is cause for concern that NSO’s very dense schedule wears out frosh long before they walk into their first IHUM class, making them less prepared to start out the year. After all, orientation is four years worth of preparation packed into six days.
Brianna Griffin ’11, the Public Health Educator of Donner House in Stern Hall, noted, “a lot of freshmen may feel a bit over stimulated by all the activities and may have longed for classes to start.” According to Griffin, NSO used to be a full week, instead of the current six days, which would have meant more time to spread out activities.
“Things felt a little more cramped this year,” she added, “and freshmen really didn’t have the opportunity to have a party. They had a concert instead.”
Griffin referred to the Victor Wooten concert, which did indeed take the place of the all-frosh party of previous years. Wooten, a Grammy Winning Bass Guitarist, not only gave a concert that Friday evening but also led an “interactive session” called “Living In and Through the Community” earlier in the day.
While the concert received generally positive remarks, it is difficult to tell whether or not this event proved to be a massive upgrade for NSO, given the fact that freshman didn’t have previous years to compare it to.
Kevin Crain ’14 thought the concert was one of the more memorable events. He remarked, “In the morning, we heard a two hour inspirational talk. It was cool going back at night and hearing those same guys do a concert.”
Not everyone had positive feedback for Wooten’s session. According to Ilya Gaidarov ‘14, “Wooten repeated the same general life principle three or four different ways.”
Indeed, it seems as though monotonous messages may have been a chief pitfall in this year’s orientation. Gaidarov added, “I really enjoyed Harry Elam’s speech…but other speakers were a little more redundant.”
Crain noted, “There were times where there were speakers back to back, and it got kind of redundant. But in some ways, it was necessary.” Crain is among many freshmen who believe NSO successfully fulfilled its role in welcoming new students.
“We hope that each student finds in NSO what they need to feel equipped to begin their undergraduate life at Stanford, but for each student that’s probably a different thing,” commented Julie Lythcott-Haims, Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising.
Indeed, how could a single program hope to orient hundreds of individual students to a foreign environment? Though she believes that NSO is as effective as it needs to be, she added, “We do struggle every year with whether the schedule is too packed.”
The task of planning hundreds of activities for nearly 1,700 people in a matter of days is no small feat. Jordan Raymond ’12, one of six Freshman Transition Coordinators, remarked, “There was a huge range of preparations from budgets, to logistics, to reservations, equipment rentals…about 1000 emails and phone calls, etc.”
Ultimately, it seems that all their hard work paid off. Crain commented, “NSO was what I expected it to be and more.”
Perhaps the most anticipated events were the academic planning sessions, which functioned as departmental open houses. Being able to go from one department to another, students were able to grasp the wide range of undergraduate courses offered at Stanford.
“It was definitely helpful to decide which classes I wanted to take,” noted Kevin Crain. “Talking with professors before signing up for classes was really a good thing for me.”
According to Gaidarov, “A lot of students seem to have already figured it out.” But it’s impossible to say whether these decided freshmen will stay on the same academic course. As most upperclassmen would agree, seemingly decided freshmen will likely alter their academic plans as they discover new passions and explore the unknown.
NSO may have its flaws and dull moments, but it succeeds in orienting new students to an unfamiliar place. Even Dean Julie believes, “There is no one program, no one week, no one month, no one year that can really prepare a student to be an undergraduate at Stanford.” While they may not hear everything they need to know, new students are provided with the tools they need to make a successful transition to college life.