This is my third orientation. (I already have two college graduates under my belt.) Admittedly, the other two orientations were a while ago; still, this was the best of the bunch. The staff was well-prepared, anticipating our every question and concern. They accomplished the impossible: they took a l600-acre campus with over 25,000 undergraduates and magically transformed it into a warm, welcoming environment.
A major theme at orientation was the importance of keeping those lines of communication open. No matter how trying things get. Barbara Goldberg, of the university’s counseling center, said, semi-humorously: “The more annoying you are, the easier it will be for your child to leave home.” I’m doing great in that department. And apparently, I’m not the only parent to make that claim.
There are so many tools and resources available for today’s college student and Maryland offers them by the fistful. A few examples: An emergency service which text messages students’ cell phones notification of extreme weather or other potential danger. The university has a police force of 100; they are constantly on patrol. Every 300 feet, there is an emergency call box - many of them have roving cameras. Response time to anyplace on campus is an impressive ninety seconds.
Beyond student safety, there is a plethora of services to help our kids maximize what the college has to offer. There are 330 student clubs and organizations, a fabulous sports facility, over 100 possible majors, all taking place in a gorgeous setting of stately white-pillared, red brick buildings. I have often thought that I’d love to have the opportunities my kids have; my experience this week at the U of M was no different. There was so much to see, learn, and do; it was positively intoxicating.
While I doubt that Mick will ever enjoy cookies baked by his prof’s mother, there is also little chance that he will feel anonymous, neglected, or alienated. At orientation (his session hosting a fraction of the 4,000 incoming freshmen), he met numerous kids who knew kids he knew. Instantly, he felt at home. He’s returned very enthused, courses chosen with the help of his academic advisor, his schedule set. While at orientation, I requested help regarding his moving date and got a positive response within a day.
This university, despite its size, strives to listen to its students. I heard two stories that seem emblematic. The dramatic mall in the center of campus has a number of asymmetrical paths running through it. When the mall was first built, it had no sidewalks at all. The sloping lawn was vast, green, and pristine. Over time, students found the best routes from place to place for themselves. Their footprints determined where the paths were later laid. All these years later, the rest of the grass remains untrammeled, concretely demonstrating the wisdom of this strategy.
The second story concerns the plaza between the Stamp Student Union and Nyumburu Cultural Center. From above, the paved area resembles a turtle, the terrapin being the University mascot. The plan began as an architecture student’s class project. His professor hated it and gave the student a lousy grade. Years later, his turtle design was rediscovered and selected for this prime location. The student’s original grade was raised, he was paid for his design, and he had the satisfaction of seeing his work executed.
We haven’t even touched on the massive enthusiasm for the various sports teams and terrific school spirit. My friend Arlene who lives in neighboring Silver Spring claims that, over the years, she has never heard anyone say anything bad about the university. All of this bodes well for Mick’s next four years. I can’t wait for him to get started!