As another semester kicks off, new students can thank orientation for helping prepare them for life on campus.
These orientations are not taken lightly, and ETSU’s Preview and Orientation Leader Organization has been a staple for all new students, freshmen and transfers alike, for over three decades. Heather Levesque, POLO director of new student & family programs, believes one of the reasons it has been met with such open arms is due to the organization’s focus on diversity in its leaders.
The role of the 70 preview and orientation leaders is to introduce new students to ETSU, making them feel comfortable and welcome, especially as a portion of students are coming from out of state, or even another country. In accommodating new students from all walks of life, Levesque said POLO prides itself on its diverse leadership.
“We’re focused on reaching out to all types of students,” Levesque said. “We’re a diverse institution, so having a wide range of voices in that leadership role is so that all students feel welcome here.”
Levesque calls her POLO leaders the “face of ETSU,” as every student comes into contact with a leader. In doing so, the impact leaders have can be lasting. She said every year, POLO interviews more than 200 people for a leadership role, and almost all of the applicants were brought there by a common reason.
“They tell me they’re applying because their [orientation] leader made a difference in their life,” she said, noting how it is not uncommon for students to connect with their leader during the semester. “I know we’re making a huge impact, that we’re valuable because we are dedicated in supporting these new students.”
“It still shocks me and is great to hear how so many people say their leaders made such a difference in their lives,” she added.
Students take notice of the value Levesque also sees. Hagen Castle, a senior who came to ETSU after graduating from Northeast State Community College, regards POLO’s focus on diversity as positive life experience.
“It’s important that incoming students receive an introduction to this university that might expose them to a worldview they might not be used to, or might not otherwise receive,” Castle said. “ETSU celebrates the rich diversity of its students, and [POLO] reflects this.”
These leaders are equipped to be mentors for new students, as many have already, Levesque noted. Whether the person is a freshman right out of high school or a transfer or a nontraditional student, the leaders are trained in making everyone feel a part of the university.
Because of these personal connections, Levesque believes POLO serves in ETSU retaining students, year after year.