By Linda Lockhart
On the way to campus, nearly 25 students were busy cramming. But not for an exam. For their first Homecoming in Athens.
The students -- from Ohio University-Southern -- hopped on board a chartered bus early Saturday morning for the two-hour ride from Ironton. The trip, part of Southern's new first-year experience program, was aimed at piquing the students' interest in Ohio University's largest campus in hopes they'll consider transferring to Athens down the road.
The bus time was spent learning "Stand Up and Cheer," boning up on OU trivia, winning prizes and anticipating Homecoming activities and Athens. For several, the trip was more than just one to their first Homecoming. It was their first visit to the Athens campus.
The bus pulled into Athens just in time for the group to catch the parade; the Marching 110 was an overwhelming favorite. A couple of hours of free time before the football game gave the students time to shop uptown, visit the College Green and explore campus. Over lunch at TailGreat Park, a few succinctly described their first impressions of the Athens campus.
"Beautiful." "Big." "Lots going on."
Kim Keffer, coordinator of Southern's first-year experience program, said the Ohio University spirit evident among the students was exactly what the trip was intended to nurture.
"They may not attend classes here (in Athens), but it is their campus, their university," Keffer said.
The trip was one option under the new first-year experience program, implemented at Southern this year to help engage students and facilitate their success. Although optional, the program may be a requirement beginning next year, Keffer said.
"We want them to think, 'I'm an OU student. That's my team. That's my band,'" Keffer added. "What better time to see Athens and get a Bobcat experience than Homecoming."
The Southern campus invested one-time funding to launch the first-year experience program, which Keffer believes will increase retention and lead more Southern campus students to transfer to Athens, instead of another university, to continue their degree.
Participating students are required to attend five campus activities (the one Saturday qualified) and have at least two peer leader conversations during the quarter. Peer leaders are upperclassmen who help the first-year students through the transitions of beginning college.
"There's no way to get them involved in campus life unless you have a planned approach," Keffer said. "You sometimes have to force students to get together. Here (on a regional commuter campus), you have to make the opportunities to have those conversations that residential students have in dorms."
Many of the students in Saturday's group were freshmen -- ranging in age from 18 to 64. But there also were peer leaders, such Joseph Horsley.
"I want to come here," said Horsley, who had been considering completing a business degree on the Athens campus, but was still undecided -- until Saturday. "This is enough to drive me up here."