Illinois State welcomed our new Redbirds to campus last week. While faculty and staff work diligently to prepare for the arrival of new students to Illinois State, many do not recognize the role a small group of current students play in our major campus event, Welcome Week.

Welcome Week, formerly known as Passages, is designed to connect new students to the campus and other students, assist them in learning the culture and values of Illinois State, inform them about the campus and its resources, and create opportunities for them to just have fun before classes begin. This student-centered program is organized through the Student Activities and Involvement (SAI) unit of the Dean of Students Office, which employs over 20 returning students as Welcome Week interns each year. These students are ultimately responsible for the planning and implementation of all Welcome Week events, with the guidance and direction of the SAI staff. Through this experience, these students gain leadership skills and a greater confidence in their abilities and talents. Some interns enjoy their experience so much that they have served as a Welcome Week intern for multiple years.

“Welcome Week is a positive environment that allows everyone to meet new friends and really put themselves out there, and that is what I love.”

For Kara Hagen, a senior finance major, this is her third year serving as a Welcome Week intern. She became involved immediately on campus, and having enjoyed her own Welcome Week experience, thought it would be a wonderful experience to help other new students as well. Since her first year as an intern, Hagen has held leadership roles such as student coordinator and team lead. She says, “I continue with Welcome Week because every year I learn something new, and get to watch as students build friendships right in front of my eyes. That is the best feeling in the world. If I can help to break the ice, I am glad to do that if it means lasting connections.”

The focus on making friendships and connections is one of the aspects of Welcome Week that Hagen and others involved in the program enjoy most. She shares, “Welcome Week is a positive environment that allows everyone to meet new friends and really put themselves out there, and that is what I love.” She further explains that forming these friendships with students from different backgrounds and interests helps students to see many new perspectives as they start their college journey.

Hagen also enjoys the opportunity to make a positive impact on incoming students during Welcome Week. She encourages students to become involved on campus, specifically in the Division of Student Affairs. As she reflects on her time as a Welcome Week intern, Alternative Break participant, and involvement in several other Registered Student Organizations (RSOs), she says, “Student Affairs really makes everything at Illinois State possible. If you as a student can have a hand in that, whether that is to help bring change, learn more, or bring more fun to Your Redbird Life, then it is worth it.”