Although incoming student Nam Do ’12 scaled the South Mountain steps for the first time last Saturday, he was already friends with his roommate, Dat Hoang, as well as about 110 other students at Lehigh.
The secret to his popularity?
Do used the social networking site to chat with his roommate and other incoming students every other day over the summer.
“Facebook gave me a little more confidence before I came here. I knew that I had friends here already,” said the engineering major from Vietnam.
Do’s story was echoed throughout the dorms as first-year students arrived at Lehigh Thursday on a cool, clear August morning. Assisted by hundreds of faculty, staff and student volunteers, the class of 2012 unloaded their belongings from U-hauls, car-top carriers, minivans and cars.
For Dane Stevens, an incoming student from Scotts Valley, Calif., and many others, the chance to communicate with his new roommate, fellow wrestler Shane Welsh of Burrell, Pa., meant being able to coordinate logistics for their room.
“We talked a little bit on Facebook to figure out who’s bringing the fridge, who’s bringing the TV—stuff like that,” Stevens said. “But we already have so much in common because we’re both wrestlers.”
Social networking sites and other online communication tools have allowed students to initiate friendships and join clubs and students groups before hanging their first posters on their walls.
“This freshman class is already starting to gel,” observed Mark Degenhart ’11, a gryphon in Dravo.
Orientation programs encourage “friending” in person
Jessica Szatoni, a first-year student from Chicago, even selected her roommate based on information she found on Facebook, said her father, Chris. Jessica, a lacrosse player, had competed against her roommate’s lacrosse team in Cincinnati. They decided to share a room after finding each other on Facebook.
However, some students have also requested roommate transfers after viewing each other’s Facebook profiles, said orientation leader John Woolley ’10.
The downside of so much communication is that incoming students may over-identify with one group of students, and lose out on opportunities to expand their personal horizons, said Sharon Basso, associate vice provost and dean of students.
“Historically, students would reach out to their new roommates once they got their room assignment, by phone or email,” she said. “But now, with social networking sites like Facebook, they can check each other out and really get to know a lot more about each other even before they arrive here at Lehigh. It helps them feel more comfortable about this whole new situation. But sometimes, it can be the point where they aren’t open to meeting others.”
To mitigate those circumstances, Basso said, students are assigned three different groups of fellow students for their first-year experience: an orientation group, a residence floor group and an evoLUtion seminar group, which helps students transition into college life.
“In effect,” added Allison Gulati, associate dean of student development, “we’ve created three different cohorts for new students to identify and affiliate with.”
Parents invited to become educational partners
For mom and dad, cell phones and online communication allow them to stay in contact with their first-year student.
In her address to parents at 4 p.m. in Packer Chapel, Lehigh President Alice P. Gast encouraged parents to use this “instant connectivity” wisely in order to allow their children freedom to explore.
“I can only imagine the emotions you are going through—I still get choked up when I drop my kids off at summer camp,” she said. “You might take comfort in the fact that this rite of passage occurs every year at Lehigh and, to the best of my knowledge, all of the parents have made it through.
“Your challenge is to strike a balance between your parental instincts to help them make decisions and to develop the independence that is critical to their future success.”
Gast invited parents to become part of their student’s education by allowing them to accept responsibility and to “stretch their intellectual boundaries” by encountering people from different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. She also assured them that the faculty, staff and other students at Lehigh will care for their child.
Mark Logan of Pleasant Valley, N.Y., attended the parents’ address with his wife after leaving their son Jason off in his room on the fifth floor of Dravo. Jason, an engineering major and an alto saxophone player, was accepted into all six of the schools he applied to, but selected Lehigh because it offered him a chance to develop both his musical and computer skills.
Logan feels confident that his son will succeed.
“We’re happy for him and sad for home,” he said.
--Linda Harbrecht, Bill Doherty and Becky Straw