Rolling out the welcome mat

Wide, nervous eyes scan schedules held by shaky hands. Loud cheers scream various group numbers, and members of the St. Kate’s community unload cars and hike up the narrow staircase of St. Mary’s Hall. August 31 to September 2 marked orientation at St. Kate’s.

Most students have been there before—experiencing the stomach butterflies as parents say goodbye for the last time, looking at new classmates and wondering which ones will become friends and waiting in the long lunch line of 400 plus students wondering, “How am I ever going to get used to this?” That is the million dollar question. How is one supposed to get used to all of these changes? The answer is simple—it’s all in the baby steps and begins with orientation week.

Started in 1989, orientation week at St. Kate’s is designed to help new students connect with others and create a new home for themselves.

“For me, orientation is all about welcoming. Being an out of state student, I know how hard the transition is, and I remember orientation being that moment of ‘yeah, I belong here,’” orientation student coordinator Nicole Villanueva ’15 said.

As always, the three day event kicked off with move-in day, during which St. Kate’s alumnae, Orientation Leaders (OLs), Residence Life, Wildcat Sports Teams, Campus Ministry and other groups grabbed bags of the incoming first-years and guided them to their new living arrangements. Chatting along the way, the move in created immediate connections.

“It’s a difficult first day for many of the new students as they leave their homes, families, and familiar surroundings, but knowing that so many people are there to carry heavy items all with bright smiles on their faces really makes a difference. It shows that we may not all be part of the same activities, majors, etc. but we can group together and help more than 400 students smoothly move in within 5 hours. Our close-knit and supportive community is one of the primary factors that drew me to St. Kate’s initially, and has kept me here since,” Alex Kennedy ’15 said.

Once the first-years got settled, they made their way to the back of the Coeur de Catherine (CdC), where the President’s Picnic was held. This was the last meal the students and their families had together, and afterwards, they parted ways: parents to the seminar on how to deal with their child leaving, and the students to the Friends for Life activities with the LEAD team and their OLs.

“When I left my parents, it was weird and sad. It finally hit me that I was going to be living on my own in college,” Michaela Thiefoldt ’18 said.

OLs greeted first years with loud cheers, and the enthusiasm stayed throughout the day as photos were taken, games were played and names were learned. The CdC hosted the Patio Party, which was the final event. This year, those who attended were entertained by a live band, enjoyed a make-your-own-ice-cream bar, created coffee mug cozies, pennants, and streamers, and got to know other Katies.Over the next two days, first-year students learned about what it means to be a Katie. The question of how to get through all of the changes seemed easier to manage.

“The sessions helped me through informing me of what was to come as a first year student at St. Kate’s. It really made me aware of St. Kate’s as a whole,” Elizabeth Kong ’18 said.

Harvard graduate and New York performance artist Signe Harriday lead a session with Multicultural and International Programs and Services (MIPS) director Donna Hauer about seeing each person for who they are, and started a conversation on stereotypes.

Administration faculty spoke about policy and what to expect in the upcoming years. As in years before, the OLs put on a skit featuring the famous radio show host Dr. Sue. Dr. Sue answered questions of homesickness and roommate troubles.

Thanks to the efforts of Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), a new session was added on sexual consent and safe partying. A panel of staff included Associate Dean of Student Affairs Curt Galloway, Campus Ministry Director Laurie Svatek, Counseling Center Psychologist Heidi Malat, Director of the Health and Wellness Center Dr. Amy Kelly, and Student Center and Activities Associative Director Brigette Marty. Each panel member gave a short speech on sexual assault from the perspective of their position, and a realistic video gave all who attended a scenario that included ways that multiple people in many different roles could prevent sexual assault. The lesson was that no matter who you are or what role you play, you can prevent assault.

“The consent panel is important because it is important that new students are aware of their rights, and also just being aware of what consent is; when students are more acclimated with the concept of consent, there is greater chance for prevention,” OL Ikram Koliso ’17 said.

Orientation came to an end on Tuesday, September 2. All of the first years met in the chapel, where a special welcome ceremony awaited them. University President Andrea J. Lee welcomed the new class of 2018, and candles were passed around as the class was blessed. As each candle was lit, faculty members, upper class-women, coaches and others filed out to cheer on the new Katies, who then marched down the road to the steps of Derham Hall, where their OLs awaited them. After listening to the OLs’ rendidtion of “I Will Survive,” the class watched a slide show of photos taken throughout the week and celebrated their induction into St. Kate’s.

“When I became an official student of St. Catherine University, I felt like I finally made it. All of my hard work through high school had finally paid off,” Grace Oehrlein ’18 said.

Though the first years came in with anxieties and questions, orientation helped to soothe these worries and created a welcoming atmosphere on the St. Kate’s campus. Welcomed with open arms, the class of 2018 became ready to dive into a whole new world of college life with the help of OLs, faculty and many other members of the campus’ community.

“The orientation leaders and program itself were such a crucial part of how I was set up for success, and I could not believe that I had found a home in a place I had just arrived at,” Villanueva said.

Jamiee can be reached at

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