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Get oriented with Orientation 2008

Students, parents become involved with getting to know the university

By: Najwa-Monique Sharpe // Contributing News Writer

Issue date: 7/8/08 Section: News
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Freshman participate in many engaging activites during orientation.  Students participate in a game of Simon Says.
Media Credit: FILE PHOTO// Veronica Sharon
Freshman participate in many engaging activites during orientation. Students participate in a game of Simon Says.

Warm lights and a sea of smiling faces calm the nerves of the University of Miami's incoming freshman class. As they enter a large arena, where they will later cheer on the Canes at basketball games with a brand new group of friends, everything seems to fall into place. Orientation, the new students' welcoming to the UM community, has begun. The first gathering of the University of Miami's Class of 2012 takes place in the BankUnited Center (or "the BUC") with hundreds of people you don't know. It can be overwhelming, but that nervousness usually fades after President Donna Shalala's announcement that you are all officially Canes.

"You can see the change on their faces," Greta Wilhelm, an orientation leaders said. "It's the first time the whole freshman class is together. It really gets you excited for the year and to be a Cane."

UM Orientation, which takes place from Aug. 20 to Aug 26, is a weeklong event  to welcome and  introduce freshmen and transfer students from across the globe to their new home on campus.

The festivities  begin  with the Canes Kickoff at the BankUnited Center, followed by a series of informational sessions about the university, and icebreaking group activities to help students feel socially comfortable.

For some students, such as sophomore Courtney Cross-Johnson, the fondest memories of orientation are "the friends you make and of course, all the free stuff."

Water bottles, spirit banners, food and enough T-shirts to outfit a student for an entire semester are given out during CaneFest, which takes place on the last day of orientation in the BankUnited Center. Most of the student organizations at the university have tables set up around the arena to discuss their programs with new students.

Orientation is about "getting to know all the resources you have as a Miami Hurricane, getting to know about everything the university does for its students, and all the opportunities that arise from that," said junior Zach Chan, who will be an orientation leader for the third time.

To help familiarize new students with campus grounds, orientation leaders offer tours around UM. During the tours, leaders teach the newcomers campus lingo and about Hurricane traditions. The 230-acre main campus - another lies on Virginia Key, and a third is near downtown Miami - is small by most national standards, but when you don't know exactly where everything is, the campus sprawl can be intimidating. But with map in hand and the assistance of the orientation leaders, this is a very solvable problem.

From end to end, the campus includes three parking garages, two colleges, seven schools, two libraries, a wellness center, a convocation center, two dining halls, a food court, and five residential colleges as well as several apartment areas.

Orientation is the time to tour the campus and get acclimated to the multitude of buildings - and the lingo by which they're known. You don't start the first day without knowing how to get to your Intro to World Religions class in the LC, or for that matter what LC stands for - the Whitten Learning Center on the north end of campus next to the School of Communication.

"A lot of people are in awe, especially the kids from the northeast, just because everything is so green and we have palm trees," Wilhelm said, recalling the reactions of students as they toured UM's campus during orientation. "UM looks like a place where people got onto vacation."

That inaugural week is also the time to begin learning Hurricane traditions. The quickest way to learn how what it means to bleed orange and green is to listen to your orientation leaders. They offer a wealth of information, including many tips and tricks for navigating everything from your academic path to campus life.

"The most important tradition for new students to know about is actually a new tradition... starting this year, football games [will be] at Dolphin Stadium," Chan said. For decades, UM played its home games in the venerable Orange Bowl west of downtown. But the historic venue was torn down earlier this year to make way for a new professional baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins.

Getting to Dolphin Stadium will not be as easy as going to the Orange Bowl. It's a lot farther away and there is no direct public transportation there, unlike the Metrorail line that connected the campus to the "OB." However, the university is making plans for a massive bus transportation system to get students to the Dolphin Stadium games.

"Our first football game is on the second day of classes," Chan says. "It's important for new students to hit the ground running when it comes to the upcoming football season as it will… be an exciting one."

Another tradition you'll be introduced to during orientation is the Canes' lovable mascot, Sebastian the Ibis. Sebastian is a symbol of knowledge; the ibis is the last sign of wildlife to leave before a hurricane and the first to return after.

Sebastian is an avid sports fan, as well as a scholar. He'll be seen both in athletic jerseys or in his Iron Arrow jacket. Iron Arrow is the highest academic honor than anyone can get at UM. Select students get tapped into the secretive society that makes students honorary members of the local Miccosukee Indian tribe.

And then there are the crocodiles - not alligators - that live in Lake Osceola. Many students have stories, videos and other fun facts to share about them. All you have to do is ask. Just be warned: do not go swimming in the lake.

Najwa-Monique Sharpe may be contacted at n.sharpe2@umiami.edu.
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