It’s summertime at Illinois State, and that means more than 3,000 incoming freshmen and their families are flocking to campus for the rite of passage that is Preview.
For nervous freshmen (and their anxious parents), the annual orientation program gives the first real glimpse into what kind of students they’ll be at Illinois State—what groups they’ll join, what kind of friends they’ll make. But for the 20 upperclassmen who serve as Preview Guides, leading these visitors around campus, these six weeks play a big role shaping who they’ll be after they leave Illinois State.
“Being a Preview Guide is great because not only are you getting others excited to be here, you’re learning about the University, and you’re learning a lot about yourself,” said Mary Cate Hansen, a senior music major from Monticello and a second-year Guide this summer.
There’s a lot to do for freshmen and their families at Preview, with a busy two-day schedule packed with logistical tasks, such as meetings with academic advisors and course registration, as well as sessions to promote student involvement and other social activities.
At the center of it all are the Guides, a group of 20 student leaders who were hired after three rigorous rounds of cuts and completed two weeks of training. They get free room and board, plus a paycheck, but it’s much more than some summer job, according to Hansen and two other Guides who spoke to STATEside.
Hansen applied to be a Guide after a friend who had done it told her she’d be good at it. She liked the idea of leading a group, talking to people, and answering questions about the University.
Now, back for a second year as a Guide, Hansen says the experience has changed her career plans. Inspired by the people she’s worked with on Preview, the former music education major now plans to attend graduate school next year and someday work in higher education administration.
“We’re really passionate about this place, and want to give back in a sense,” Hansen said.
Preview Guides FAQ
Guides lead Preview sessions for students and parents, but a big part of their job is accurately answering questions that can run the gamut. From freshmen, the big ones center around how they can get involved, or how can they make friends. (One of Hansen’s tips: Leave your residence hall door open during that first week of classes, to draw pop-in visits from your floor mates.)
The questions can get a little odd. Second-year Guide Nellie Romanowski said a parent once asked her what meal plan she used, since she was “about the same size as my student.” But for the most part, parents are most interested in what Illinois State offers to help their students succeed academically, and it’s important for the Guides to keep in mind that for many families, their student may be the first to attend college.
“It’s all about taking a step back and putting myself in their shoes,” said Romanowski.
The Palatine native, who will student-teach in the fall and hopes to be a high school English teacher, said she’s learned a lot about who she is and how she fits into a workplace setting through Preview. That’s on top of the public-speaking skills—“cleaning up the jargon,” as she puts it—she’s honed on the job.
“It’s just about being really professional, and learning how to turn off and turn on that persona that you have to carry with you,” Romanowski told STATEside.
The Guides deal with a diverse mix of freshmen—from the “Too Cool for Preview” types to the genuinely curious to the ones who barely say a word. The key is to relate to everybody on their level.
“I tell them, this is a time, if you want to, you can completely reinvent yourself to be who you want to be. There’s no stereotype of you coming in, so you can be who you want to be,” said Connor Sampson, a junior English major from Normal now in his second year as a Guide.
Sampson wants to either be a technical writer or, like Hansen, pursue a career in higher education administration inspired by his Preview experience. One of the reasons Sampson chose Illinois State was because of its focus on individualized attention, and this orientation program is a big piece of that.
“This is a very fundamental first step into that, to proving what we say,” Sampson said. “It’s a great demonstration of the ‘big school with a small school feel.’”
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.