Around 80 members of Catawba College's Class of 2011 were formally welcomed to the college community at a commissioning service held Friday, August 17 in Omwake-Dearborn Chapel on campus. However, this group's indoctrination into Catawba College life began several days before, when these same students participated in a freshman retreat at Johns River Camp near Collettsville, N.C.
The freshman retreat, one of two sponsored this summer by Catawba's Lilly Center for Vocation and Values, gave new students a chance to get to know classmates and some faculty and staff members prior to the start of the academic year. It also helped them gain a better understanding of the college experience, a chance to ask questions of upper classmen in the Lilly Center's Leadership Corps, and an opportunity to take assessment of their vocational callings and career opportunities.
Members of the Class of 2011 Commissioned
"Going in, we did not realize how much this retreat would mean to us," explained first-year student Billie Sullivan of Mooresville, one of four students speaking on behalf of their peers at the commissioning service attended by family members and members of the college community. "In just a few days, we've become family — the Catawba family."
"The retreat was unique way to define us all as people and we came out of it as members of Catawba's class of 2011," said Zachary Morman of McKinney, Texas.
Dr. Barry Sang, a professor of religion and a faculty participant at the retreat, quoted Parker Palmer as a way to explain the journey on which the members of the Class of 2011 were embarking. "Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am," he said. Sang went on to explain to those gathered at the commissioning service that a major part of each students' college experience was determining a vocation.
As each student's name was called at the service, he or she stepped forward to place a folded sheet of paper, outlining the goals they had set for themselves and the gifts they planned to bring to Catawba, on a cloth-covered table at the front of the chapel.
Dr. Ken Clapp, senior vice president, chaplain, and director of Catawba's Lilly Center, also paraphrased Parker Palmer as he spoke to the students after the final name was called and the final sheet of paper placed on the table. "I encourage each of you to 'Let your life speak,' " he said, and extended to the students an invitation "not to see these college days as simply preparation for a vocation, but to start experiencing that vocation now."
At Johns River Camp
Through skits, role-playing, team-building exercises, written surveys, and questions asked and answered in group settings or one-on-one, first-year students got plenty of information about college life during the retreat at Johns River Camp. They also received some information to mull and ponder as they begin a collegiate journey of four years or more, not just filled with reading books and writing papers, but also discovering who they are and the ways they make a difference in a needy world.
Serving as a facilitator during a large group gathering, Theatre Arts Professor Missy Barnes stressed the importance of each student taking care of him or herself. "Don't schedule back to back classes that won't give you a break," she said, noting that she schedules time for meals and rest into her daily routine.
"School gives you a calendar and that's your best friend," explained Dr. Rob Dingle, director and assistant professor of athletic training education, emphasizing the importance of planning.
Dr. Lyn Boulter, professor of psychology, emphasized the integral role of faculty in each student's college experience. "We are here for your success — to help you, to give you tips, and to give you everything we can to support you. For us, it's not just a job or a paycheck; we're here to help your success. We're a support system for you."
Dr. Charles McAllister, a professor of history, told students that "Professors are like regular people — we all have our fans and our detractors, but the one thing we all have in common is that we want students with good attitudes who are engaged in learning our classes."
Members of the Lilly Center Leadership Corps also were active participants in the sessions with first-year students. Through role-playing in different skits, the upper class students illustrated correct behavior to model.
One of the Leadership Corps members, senior Dan Robertson of Little Rock, Ark., gave new students some very practical economic advice: "For every class you skip," he said, "you're throwing away $25."
Junior Nathan Wrights of China Grove said time management was the biggest challenge he has faced at Catawba. "But I've learned to study first and socialize second," he explained.
Junior Kenzie Brogdan of Wilmington shared with first-year students the hardest thing she has had to overcome during her time at Catawba — gaining her own sense of independence without her family unduly influencing her decisions. "Keep yourself busy, keep an open mind, and keep in your head that 'I'm moving in my own direction.' "
Beyond the Retreat and the Commissioning Service
All first-year students, including those who participated in the retreat, began orientation on Saturday, August 18, a process that continues through Wednesday, August 22. Each met with a faculty advisor, typically their first-year seminar instructor, and participated in information meetings about different academic majors. Various placement sessions, tests and interviews were scheduled during orientation, as well as auditions for different musical ensembles and theatre department productions, and loan and campus employment sessions.
All first-year students registered for classes on Tuesday, August 21, and will attend classes for the first time, Thursday, August 23.