Eager to get involved at UA? ‘All you have to do is show up’

After a year of trading proms and birthday parties for Zoom classes and double-masked grocery store visits, the University’s incoming freshman class has a lot on its plate. Not only does the class of 2025 have to transition from high school to college, but they must also figure out how to go from online learning to an on-campus experience.

Finding a strategy for socializing is critical for a new student’s success, and there are plenty of resources around campus to help students adapt. Fortunately, there are entire departments eager to help new students as soon as they set foot on campus.

University Programs 

A central part of the Division of Student Life, University Programs nurtures the interests of students while squashing the feelings of doubt and isolation that can accompany going away to school for the first time. This semester, Tied with the Tide, Weeks of Welcome and UP Engage are making a comeback.  

Tied with the Tide 

There are dozens of student-oriented events and celebrations for new students to look forward to this fall, starting with Tied with the Tide, which spans from Aug. 7 through Aug. 15. Events range from movie nights and yoga on the Quad to game nights. 

Paige Acker, the director of University Programs, said the goal of the program is to give students who moved in early a chance to participate in fun, low-pressure activities before classes begin.

Weeks of Welcome 

Following Tied with the Tide is Weeks of Welcome, another set of activities to help first-year and transfer students acclimate themselves to campus life. Weeks of Welcome will stretch from Aug. 15 to Aug. 28. 

The calendar for Weeks of Welcome 2021 can be found on the University Programs website. It starts as soon as Tied with the Tide ends, meaning there will be activities regardless of when a student moves in. 

UP Engage 

The UP Engage series will take center stage when Weeks of Welcome comes to a close and hopes to encourage new students to put themselves out there. Events are scheduled for every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with an additional event on either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday depending on the week. The four events per week are free and open to all UA students. 

Acker said feeling overwhelmed while looking at the activity calendars is normal, though it shouldn’t discourage anyone from trying something new.

“I would encourage them to just pick one or two things a week that they may be really interested in,” Acker said. “We provide, we take care of everything. All they have to do is show up.”

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone 

She said the goal isn’t to force any social situations, but to provide comfortable environments in which new students can explore their interests and talents. While there are plenty of staff members and organizers at University Programs who are happy to assist new students, Acker encourages all returning students to put their best foot forward in contributing to a positive and welcoming environment.

“I would say [to] any students that are coming back, as they’re welcoming new students to campus to remember that they were once the new students,” Acker said. “We all were first-year students at one point.”

Acker said pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and taking advantage of everything that The University of Alabama has to offer this fall are the keys to a successful first semester on campus.

“What’s so great about a university like UA is that there’s a huge variety of things to get involved in, so taking that time to really figure out about what you’re interested in — not what maybe your family was interested in or what your friends are interested in — but what you’re really passionate about,” Acker said. “Taking the time to figure those things out is okay.”

Mental Health 

Immersing themselves into a loud and proud campus culture can feel overwhelming for some students. According to Karly Downs, an assistant professor in the department of human development and family studies, current UA students return to campus ready for another year of tailgates and football games while new students are facing a new and potentially frightening period of change.

Downs said the pandemic placed a strain on social interaction for freshmen.

“I think normally when you’re first starting a college experience, there’s a certain level of excitement and nervousness and anxiety that just comes along with the unknown and what it’s going to be like,” Downs said. 

This year, Downs said incoming freshmen have just completed a potentially isolated senior year of high school with limited face-to-face interaction. Downs said adjusting to both college and the “new normal” amplifies the usual anxieties of being judged, not making friends and even the fear of being in social situations during a pandemic.

“The extra level of potentially being very isolated for the past year and then coming into those experiences, I think people just have to be aware that it may cause them to have a little bit more anxiety or social anxiety,” Downs said.

The main thing Downs hopes to tell students, both new and returning, is to remember that everyone is in the same boat and to be grateful for the ride.

“Expect that it might feel a little bit more anxiety-provoking. Expect that it might be awkward,” Downs said. 

Jump Right In

Mollie Tinney, the assistant director of organization engagement for student involvement, offered advice for students who may have anxiety about putting themselves out there again.

It may take some students a little longer than others to get back out and that’s okay,” Tinney said. 

Tinney suggested students use mySOURCE, the University’s student involvement website, to find organizations that match their interests. Where there’s a will, she said, there’s a way to get involved. 

“My advice is to try a wide range of new things,” Tinney said. “This is the best time to learn something new or start a new hobby. Try to get outside of your comfort zone. Student organizations are about finding your place on campus, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a little time. There is so much to choose from. All you have to do is jump right in.”