Six first-year students got a jumpstart on their RIT experience earlier this month. They convened on campus, strapped their belongings to their backs, hopped in a van and headed to the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountains. No laptops, no cell phones and no video games—just each other.
And according to Rebecca Andrew, one of the first participants in what is expected to be an annual pre-orientation adventure called FACEtime, it was an experience of a lifetime.
“I feel like I have met my new best friends for my upcoming college years and longer,” says Andrew. “It’s wonderful how open and real people get without so many modern distractions. I got to know some truly extraordinary people and had tons of fun trekking through the woods with them.”
That connection is exactly what FACEtime was designed to accomplish.
“We wanted to reach students in a way that is different—to give students another chance to make friends, feel connected and get engaged,” says Mary Heiermann, the project manager for RIT’s New Student Orientation and one of FACEtime’s organizers. “We wanted to kick start their RIT careers with something fun.”
Outdoor orientation programs have emerged at several universities across the country. Research has shown that these programs create an affinity for these various universities, improve retention and establish a bond with fellow students, faculty and staff.
So Heiermann teamed with Interactive Adventures Program Director Tom Connelly to build a similar program at RIT. In year one, they decided to bring six students—three men and three women—on a backpacking excursion from July 30 to August 2. The spots were filled on the first day of registration.
The group hiked during the day and held conversations at night, all the while building a bond that the participants predict will help ease the anxiety associated with heading off to college.
“FACEtime made the looming thought of college a bit less intimidating,” says incoming student Chris Burton. “I had been extremely excited to go from the beginning, but there was always that nervous element within every thought. That uncertainty evaporated at some point along the FACEtime trip.”
Heiermann and Connelly say that the feedback they received from the participants expressed similar sentiments.
“We are confident that, as their remarks indicated, the various successes they enjoyed, relationships they developed, and personal accomplishments they achieved have situated these students in the most optimum posturing for success here at RIT,” says Connelly.