A Colonial Introduction

Incoming freshmen get a preview of their next four years at CI.

June 17, 2010

By Jennifer Price

For the next three weeks, hundreds of incoming freshmen will descend on GW, touring the campus, learning about their specific school and getting a taste of college life.

Colonial Inauguration, or CI as it’s best known, has been the first stop for freshmen and their parents for the past 20 years. During their three days on campus, students live in Thurston Hall, while parents and siblings stay in local hotels.

“The overall goal is to really acclimate the students and parents to campus and get them familiar with the community they are going to be joining in the fall,” says Steve Roche, assistant director of the Student Activities Center and director of Colonial Inauguration. “CI makes the transition and move-in in the fall more relaxing.”

Incoming freshman Amelia Olmsted, of Warren, Maine, attended the first CI session this week and says she is now so excited for the fall.

“I can’t wait to move in and get involved on campus,” says Ms. Olmsted, who plans to join GW’s College Republicans chapter, take ballroom dancing and sing in GW’s Voice Gospel Choir.

During the CI kickoff, students hear from Student Association President Jason Lifton and university senior leadership. They also learn the GW fight song and other university spirit traditions.

“CI is important for incoming freshmen and their families because it helps to make their soon-to-be new environment more familiar and the transition ahead less daunting,” says Helen Cannaday Saulny, dean of freshmen and associate vice president for Student and Academic Support Services. “Students generally leave CI feeling more comfortable about the place and people they will spend and share the next four years of their life.”

Students meet with advisers from their individual schools to learn about their majors, study abroad opportunities and internships. Students tour the residence hall where they will be living in the fall and hear more about moving in and living on campus. They learn about all the different student organizations on campus. And because registering for classes can be confusing the first time, students have a chance to practice and learn the system so they’re prepared later in the summer.

“There’s so much to take in. It’s a little overwhelming,” says Kiran Edelstein, an incoming freshman from New Haven, Conn.

A group of about 40 GW students are putting on CI this year. These sophomores, juniors and seniors were chosen from a pool of about 200 applicants.

“We look for people who are involved on campus and who can be comfortable talking to students and parents,” says Ryan Douglass, co-student coordinator for CI.

Putting on CI is no easy task. The Colonial Cabinet, as the group is called, trains throughout the year leading up to CI to prepare for the event. And during CI, part of the cabinet is up before sunrise to prepare for the day, while other cabinet members stay up until the last student goes to bed, which is often after sunrise.

“The goal is to provide a sampling of GW life—meeting the many faces that define our community of scholars as well as realizing the spectrum of services, activities and possibilities that will shape and define their GW experience,” says Ms. Cannaday Saulny.

Each incoming freshman is assigned to a small group and a member of the Colonial Cabinet. Throughout their three days at orientation, freshmen get several opportunities to get all their questions answered by their small group leader and discuss topics like time management, drugs and alcohol and how to deal with a roommate conflict.

There are four CI sessions throughout the summer and one in the fall for international and transfer students. About 500 students attend each session.

While there is loads of information to take in during CI, students also get a chance to just hang out and make new friends.

Unlike in years past, freshmen have already received their housing assignments for the fall so the CI staff grouped students who will be living together in the fall on the same floor in Thurston during CI.

“I made a lot of new friends,” says Ms. Edelstein.

In the evenings, students get to relax by participating in an improvisational comedy show, trying their luck at Casino night and watching a movie. Then at midnight, the Colonial Cabinet takes students to “CI in the City,” where freshmen get to take in the monuments at night.

“The depth of what we offer at our orientation definitely exceeds what a lot of other schools do,” says Mr. Roche.

Incoming freshman Arthur Zysk, of Cranbury, N.J., says he was really impressed with how extensive the orientation program was.

“You definitely wouldn’t get the same experience just coming for one day,” he says. “You wouldn’t get the same connection to campus.”

One of the ways CI is so unique is its parent and siblings programs.

In addition to learning about their students’ specific school and major, parents hear from Rodney L. Johnson, executive director of parent services. Mr. Johnson talks to parents about the importance of letting go and how to support their children during college.

Eileen Zysk, Mr. Zysk’s mother, couldn’t believe how jam-packed the parents program was.

“I thought I would just be sent to the bookstore while he learned about classes, but I was so busy I hardly even made it to the bookstore. Our generation, our parents just dropped us off on the curb and said ‘See you at Thanksgiving’,” she says. “CI was really welcoming for the students and reassuring for parents.”

Parents also have a chance to eat at one of the many restaurants in Foggy Bottom that offer GWorld access as well as enjoy a wine and cheese reception in the City View Room at the Elliott School for International Affairs.

Jane Edelstein, Ms. Edelstein’s mother, says she appreciates how much support GW gives to parents.

“I know it’s still going to be hard in August to let her go, but I feel a lot better about it. And I feel like I really know this place,” she says.

There’s also a group of GW students devoted solely to entertaining siblings of incoming freshmen.

Siblings visit the National Mall, watch the panda bears at the Smithsonian National Zoo, tour the Newseum and the International Spy Museum and take a riverboat cruise on the Potomac River.

“It’s really a program for the whole family,” says Taylor Tibbetts, CI siblings co-coordinator.

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