Lighting the Way

By: Tricia Seifert, Associate Professor in Adult & Higher Education and Department Head of Education at Montana State University

Lanterns light the way
Lanterns suspended from the ceiling at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park.

This summer I took some time and disconnected from my phone, computer, and social media. I went to Glacier National Park and took in the breathtaking views of the mountains, lakes, streams, and wildflowers. I observed a grizzly bear and her cubs, deer, marmots, and eagles. The nature that surrounded was beautiful and inspiring.

But there was something about the lanterns in the park’s hotels and lodges. Suspended from huge beams, they lit the way. I stood on the second floor and marveled at the color of light, the shape of the lantern, and how they were hung at different heights. They made me think about how faculty, student affairs and services staff, and peers often light the way through post-secondary education’s darkness.

Students, especially those who are first in their family to attend college or university, may find the campus bewildering, a maze of buildings with names that are unfamiliar. Who is a Registrar? Who is a Bursar? And why do they need their own offices?

Those from rural communities may have no conscious memory of making a friend. They simply have gone to school with the same group of kids their whole life. Signing up to be on the email list for a student club may feel really intimidating. Sitting in a classroom with more people than in one’s hometown can be downright anxiety-provoking.

Having to get out up and out of bed of one’s own volition can be difficult if its being done for the first time. How much time is needed to study for the test? How long will it take to draft and then edit the first composition essay? Mastering the art and science of time management takes practice.

It’s for these reasons (and thousands) more why it’s important that our campuses have plenty of lanterns. Faculty, staff, and students who communicate clearly that they care about and are committed to supporting first-year students as they find their way.

Lanterns at the Lake McDonald Lodge at Glacier National Park.

At Montana State, these lanterns shine brightly during MSU Debut. This is a series of signature events that begin with hundreds of volunteers helping with Move In Day continues with Convocation, and concludes a full month later with the Involvement and Study Abroad Fair. Over the course of those weeks, there are a number of events that embody the spirit and culture of Montana State. This includes the revered ‘M’ photo where all first-year students form a huge block M on the football field and are welcomed by the University President as well as the ‘Rockin the M’ event in which students engage in the 100+ year tradition of painting rocks on the mountain side.

The beloved ‘M’ on the hillside on the outskirts of Bozeman, Montana.

At each of these events and across campus, faculty, staff, and students serve as lanterns for the first-year students starting their post-secondary journey. They are there directing students to the right building, explaining how financial aid works, and inviting them to join in the fun at ‘Movies on the Lawn.’

The hard work of planning that goes into a campus’ orientation and onboarding activities is coming to fruition, the first-year experience is beginning. But there is always an opportunity to learn what others are doing to serve as lanterns for their students. I invite you to take a moment and “leave a reply” with what you are doing to light the way.

2 thoughts on “Lighting the Way

  1. Thank you, Tricia; as always, you are inspiring! And, MSU has really done some wonderful things with the onboarding and orientation of new students. I’m currently creating a FYE course for STEM-interested students, and integrating strengths-based practices and positive psychology into the course. One way I’m doing this is using the “Strengthsfinder” instrument and having students take it during the first couple of weeks, and then reflecting on their results and using them to think about how they will approach their first year of college, from a talent/strengths perspective, rather than a deficit perspective.

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