LSU building the hype as students join the STRIPES

On a recent Tuesday morning, hundreds of incoming LSU freshmen packed into Shaver Auditorium.

Nearly all were wearing purple and gold. They chanted and clapped.

They had quickly formed — and were not afraid to express — alliances and rivalries, based on teams named after LSU people and places.

It’s not what you imagine a teenager’s summer morning would look like.

They’re eager for later this month when they will enter college for the first time — not thinking about the mountain of worries they could soon be facing: tuition and textbook costs, late nights studying for finals or even having to find their way around campus on the first day of classes.

“I’ve loved it,” Madison Horst, an incoming freshman from Madisonville, said of LSU’s STRIPES orientation session just before a game of tug-of-war. “It is what you put into it, and I’ve been putting in a lot.”

More than 920 students are participating this summer in STRIPES, a secondary orientation offered by LSU for incoming freshmen to learn about LSU traditions and build up hype for the fall semester. It’s a record for the program, which is in its 15th year. Last year, about 760 participated.

All students also attend a mandatory orientation, where they get their student ID cards and learn their way around campus.

Hundreds of soon-to-be college freshmen are taking part in similar orientation sessions at Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College as schools prepare for the fall semester. LSU and BRCC start their fall semesters Aug. 25, while SU’s first day is Aug. 18.

“The Student Orientation team strives to create an experience that encompasses every aspect of campus life,” Southern University Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Brandon Dumas said. “The student and parent reviews of the 365Jag Experience have proven that their efforts have been successful.”

Of course, the goal for all of these orientation offerings, which stretch over summer break before the school year starts, is to better prepare teens for college.

As BRCC puts it in its orientation introduction, the purpose is “to help new students learn the best ways to achieve their academic, personal, and career goals.”

And some studies suggest that participating in freshman orientation does correlate with higher graduation and retention rates for traditional first-time students.

“Students who participate in STRIPES show higher retention and graduation rates, and this year we will also begin to track campus involvement,” said Darrell Raye, LSU assistant vice chancellor for student life. “We believe that the networking relationship formation, and connection to campus resources that can come from STRIPES attendance all facilitate a smoother transition into the college experience.”

The programs vary, but most include introductions to academic life (sometimes through mock lecture), orientation with the places students need to know on campus, explanations of health and guidance offerings available, team-building exercises and social functions.

At Southern University, orientation started as “Jaguar Preview” several years ago, but the program evolved to the more comprehensive “365Jag Experience,” Dumas said.

He said the social events are among the most popular parts of the three-day sessions. More than 900 students have gone through orientation this summer.

This year, SU started a parent orientation. LSU has a similar offering for parents, as well.

“This concept has proven beneficial in that it provides parents with a greater sense of comfort and understanding of the student experience at SU,” Dumas said.

During the recent STRIPES session at LSU, older students performed humorous skits as a way to teach the new students about LSU history and traditions.

A spoof of CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” used LSU history facts as reasons to pick it over other colleges.

Several freshmen in the audience leaned to the person next to them, remarking that they didn’t know dorms were built into Tiger Stadium at the order of Gov. Huey P. Long to bypass legislative budget approval for a stadium expansion and use dorm money instead.

A skit riffing on ESPN’s Gameday was used to encourage students to participate in a tradition students are trying to revive this year — the “pajama game,” the first home SEC football game at which students plan to wear pajama pants.

“It’s a way to make you not stress out so much about college,” said incoming freshman Jeffrey Bacila, of Houston. “I heard that it gets you better prepared for college, and I wanted to get to know more people.”

Students filed into the parade grounds, yelling callback chants to other “teams” of incoming freshmen. A radio blared One Direction’s “Best Song Ever.”

Bacila said he enjoyed the regular, mandatory orientation, but STRIPES is different.

“This is more fun,” he said. “The other one is definitely more serious.”

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