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New Golden Bears settle in at orientation

August 16 marks the first day of classes at WVU Tech. It’s also a milestone day for the university, where it means the beginning of the institution’s operation entirely on the Beckley campus.

Anyone who’s been through campus knows that’s not the start of activity, though. Over the last few days, more than 300 WVU Tech employees and another 300 new students have been settling into their offices, classrooms, labs and residence halls.

Hayley Gill is one of those students. The Beckley native was on campus for WVU Tech’s New Student Orientation program, which gathers incoming freshmen for three days of informational seminars, ice-breaking and campus tours.

Gill plans to become a travel nurse, where she can make house calls or work at the hospitals and clinics that need her most.

New WVU Tech students move into their residence hall during NSO 2017.
New students move into residence halls during NSO.

“I really like the field because you take care of people and you’re there for the community to help out,” she said.

She’s living on campus, even though she’s from the area. It’s part of the college experience she wants, and she was excited for the opportunity to study without having to travel far.

"I chose Tech because it's close to home and they have a lot to offer. I felt like their nursing program was really good and I thought that I'd enjoy it here," she said.

Her grandmother, Sharon Smith, was excited about Gill’s decision to stay close, too.

"I came to be with Hayley to cheer her on," she said. "She's wanting to make something of her life and I believe she's headed in the right direction. I think she'll love it here.”

Gill’s excitement was a common thread among the hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members on campus during orientation. Since employees returned on Friday and students began moving into their rooms over the weekend, WVU Tech’s campus has come to life with activity, enthusiasm and promise at what the future holds for the more than 1,300 students who will call it their home on Wednesday.

Redefining the orientation experience

The first day of classes marks the culmination of WVU Tech’s transition to the Beckley campus, and with that transition came months of anticipation. The university’s Division of Student Life wanted to create a new student orientation experience to capture that energy and set newcomers on the right path.

At NSO, new Golden Bears are embarking on “resource walks” to explore where they might find tools like tutoring, computer access or health and wellness services. They’re attending seminars on how to make good choices during their first year on campus. They’re even spending an entire day on different community service projects throughout the Beckley area.

Dean of Students Richard Carpinelli said that the orientation experience was carefully crafted to set students up for success.  

New students hear from Provost Dr. Nigel Clark during convocation at NSO 2017.  Newcomers hear from Campus Provost Dr. Nigel Clark at convocation.

"It benefits students because we really have designed a program that allows them to transfer from high school or from another institution to Tech. With it, we hope to arm them with all the appropriate resources and skills they need to hit the ground running on the first day of classes," he said.

Carpinelli said that the family atmosphere of orientation is an important part of the experience. He said that surrounding new students with upperclassmen and employees who work in student-oriented departments makes new arrivals feel less nervous about embarking on their educational adventure.

"We want them to know that feeling anxious is not a unique feeling; that there are lots of folks who are feeling that, but they're all together here and they can support one another,” he said. “We're here to help allay any kind of concerns that they have before they start the first day of classes."

That family atmosphere is what drew in students like Rhyan McLaughlin, a computer engineering major from Wheeling, West Virginia. He wants to learn how to design computer hardware like graphics cards and CPUs. He very much wants to do that at Tech.

"I came here to visit and I like the smaller school. It's on a smaller scale than WVU, but with the same stuff they offer. You meet people like the deans that you might not get to meet at other schools, and it helps new students calm down and get over some nerves. It helps them with leaving their families," he said.

His father David, an electrician in Wheeling, agreed.

"The smaller campus and the one-on-one with instructors will be a good thing for him," he said. “We toured campus and the town. We loved it here and everybody seems so nice. It feels a lot like we're back at home."

"I think he'll do very well here," he added.

Students like Jessica Beck saw Tech as a chance for an adventure. Beck traveled 600 miles to Tech from her home in Camden County, Georgia to study criminal justice. Her mother works with victims of domestic violence. She got Beck interested in the issue of human trafficking. 

WVU Tech student Jessica Beck crosses a rope bridge during Tech Adventures.  New student Jessica Beck crosses a rope bridge with Tech Adventures.

"It's a bigger problem than what people realize, so I want to go into the FBI to fight trafficking and eventually work my way to profiling,” said Beck. "I looked up programs for criminal justice, and Tech has one of the best."

Beyond coursework, Beck plans to play basketball. She’s also no stranger to the outdoors, and participated in WVU Tech’s new Tech Adventures program, which hosts a weeklong outdoor orientation where students camp, hike, rock climb and go whitewater rafting.

"It was amazing. I had so much fun and I met some really great friends. Coming from out of state, I was really nervous that I wouldn't have a whole lot of friends and that I'd kind of be lost. Now I have people to fall back on, and that helps a lot," she said.

"They reach out to you and make sure you're included in everything. It makes you feel like you're part of a real family," she said. 

This is what it feels like to be part of something bigger

On Sunday, August 13, hundreds of new students and their families gathered on the lawn of Carter Hall to celebrate. Dean Carpinelli welcomed the newcomers to campus and to their new home in Beckley.

"I want to say thank you to the Beckley community,” he told the crowd. “We have had some terrific partners in the area and they have welcomed us with open arms. They made it very easy for us to make the transition and, without their help and support, this could not have happened as it did."

As part of that welcome, new students enjoyed snacks and drinks from Bojangles during move-in hours earlier in the day. They made s’mores that evening on fires fueled by wood donated by the campground at the Pipestem Resort State Park. They will enjoy food from the Beckley Presbyterian Church during their day of service, and dozens of local businesses have offered students and staff generous discounts.

Orientation leaders pose with Monty during NSO 2017.
Orientation leaders pose with Monty the Golden Bear during the NSO family picnic.

Gestures like these, said Carpinelli, work to make new and returning students feel at home.

Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold – whose own gesture of welcome included homemade meals for homesick students – was on hand to welcome the new Golden Bears and their families.

"We're rejoicing in Beckley because of the revitalization and the wonderful atmosphere that WVU Tech has given us and we're so very, very excited,” he said. “We're so pleased to have you here and we welcome this new era of Beckley with WVU Tech."

The welcomes won’t end there, however. Students like Gill, McLaughlin and Beck will join more than 1,000 of their fellow Golden Bears from more than 30 states and more than 20 countries on August 16.

Kimberly Rush, a senior forensic investigation major from Calhoun County, West Virginia, is looking forward to that experience again. She’s spent the last few days as an orientation leader. In that role, she helps students learn the ropes before the first day of classes. She’s also helped a lot of teary-eyed parents find their way around campus.

"You see parents that are a little bit devastated that their kids are going off to school, then you tell them about your experience as a student. That you'll be there for their student to answer questions and make them feel at home. And that, at Tech, you’ll meet people from so many different backgrounds and so many different countries,” she said.

“It's really amazing to see everyone come together."

Check out local media coverage of orientation from The Register-Herald and WVNS.

A group photo of the class of 2021.