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  September 4, 2000

Freshmen Move In To New Home in Northwest

Jennifer DeJulio, eager to unpack and move into her room, eyes the assortment of bags and boxes remaining on the curb.

"One thing my mom made sure that I brought was a picture of my family," she says, tucking a bundle under her arm. Her roommate, Sarah Kwiatkowski, excited about the room they would share, joins her after unloading several parcels. "Let's bunk the beds," she says. They seem like old friends.

The two women are among 900 first-year students who came to campus two days earlier than their peers to participate in an extended orientation program designed exclusively for students who live in Northwest, the newly renovated residence hall for freshmen. About one-third of the incoming class will make Northwest their home this year. The 'Northwest Experience' provides the newcomers with opportunities to merge their academic and social lives.

About 70 mentors, who are upperclassmen, also live in the dorms, serving as resources and role models while pursuing their own studies. Mentors are available throughout the year to help the first-year students make a smooth transition from home to university life.

"I wanted to help make things easier for freshmen," says mentor Amyra Weiss.

Leszek Okrasa, another mentor, agrees: "You give them insight. It's a personalized way to help them adapt to their new situation."

Nearby, a grandmother, sitting on a lawn chair sipping tea, guards a computer and a bag of granola bars, while a Husky Hauler volunteer helps unload a car.

Kwiatkowski chats with her mother Denise, who is in charge of carrying CDs. "UConn was Sarah's first choice," says her mother. Kwiatkowski, who will study education, opted for Northwest because she "wanted to get to know the people I'd be with for the next five years."

Some students chose to live on community floors with students who have similar academic or social interests. These include an engineering community, a community service floor, a leadership floor and an ACES (Academic Center for Entering Students) community for students who are undecided about their majors.

The renovations to Northwest were on an ambitious schedule. Construction workers and UConn personnel worked around the clock to ensure the residence halls would open on time. The renovations were deliberately scheduled to take place during the summer so that student life would not be disrupted.

Northwest Experience is about living and learning, says Vicky Triponey, vice chancellor for student affairs. "It is an exciting opportunity for us to provide freshmen with an intensive learning experience on the front end to help them develop the skills and knowledge they're going to need to succeed," she says. "We've been really excited about the response from our freshmen in being part of that experience."

Mentors Kelly Nemeth and Karen Lussier greet students in the hallway. The two were roommates last year when Nemeth was a sophomore and Lussier a freshman. Lussier says her experience living with an upperclassman inspired her to become a mentor: "I liked having someone older to help me out and show me where buildings were."

Nemeth says having an extended orientation period gives freshmen time to adjust to their new surroundings. "Usually, you move in, your parents leave and classes start," she says. "This gives you a couple of days to meet and spend time with people. It starts you off on a better foot."

Triponey says the extended orientation, which was partly funded by a gift from Laura and George Estes '78, facilitates bonding and community building early on.

"Camp Northwest gives students a chance to bond in a community within the residential area,"Triponey says. "We think that will serve them well throughout the year, because students will have that support network to turn to as well as a better understanding of each other."

During the orientation, Herbertia V. Williams, associate dean of students, led a session on community building. "When you arrive on this campus, you bring your own set of values, your own set of norms, your own experiences that make you unique," she told students, who sat in small groups on the Northwest tennis courts. "For the next couple of weeks and as the year unfolds, you'll learn more things about yourself and others than you ever anticipated you could learn."

There is more to follow for students in Northwest this semester: "Once construction finishes on the new dining hall and its meeting rooms, special Northwest first-year experience courses will be taught there," says John Sears, who led the Northwest planning team of representatives from Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs. Students will take courses right in their living area, blurring the traditional lines between academics and co-curricular activities.

"We hope to provide for our first-year residents a more wholistic learning experience," Sears adds, "and this will help them form some solid expectations early on of what they want college to be like."

Sherry Fisher