Sunday, July 19, 2015

What was your orientation to college like?

The past couple of weeks as I was walking into the Russell House Student Union on the University of South Carolina campus, I was treated to the sight of groups of new freshmen and their parents being oriented prior to the beginning of the new school year. They were in packs of 10 to 20 including parents being led around by the students hired by the orientation office. Since the main cafeteria and the book store are both on the first floor, they were getting information about the food plans and the different places they could buy books on or nearby campus. As I boarded the elevator to the radio station, I could hear them being told that they were going down to get their student IDs made. Except for a couple of last minute additions and changes, all of these students were already registered for their classes.

My orientation experience was a little different. Instead of small groups, over 500 of us new freshmen spent most of the morning in a large auditorium where we were given the basic story of life on campus, the rules and expectations, we took notes just like it was a lecture. By that time we already knew where the cafeteria was because we had moved into our dorm rooms the day before. Basic navigation was provided by the dormitory hall residents. There were no parents involved back then. After lunch, we were broken up into groups of about 50 or so and taken around campus to get the lay of the land. The next day, we would be going through the registration process and would learn where our classes that started two days after that would be. As far as student IDs, there wasn’t really any. Much less like the Carolina Cards they get today that actually have a debit and RFID card entry functionality. It seems strange to me that during all those years as a student I went cardless, but now to gain access to the radio station at my age, I now carry my own Carolina Card that proudly states that I am a visitor. And just in case you were wondering, my card does not have debit card functionality.

Before my show, one of the student DJs at WUSC-FM was whining to me about the fact that it took her three whole hours online and several schedule changes to get all of her classes scheduled for the semester. Really, they don’t realize how good they have it. The process that we had back in the day involved walking to the various colleges, finding the professor who taught the class we wanted to take, signing his or her roll and obtaining a computer punch card that had the class information on it. Back and forth, crisscrossing the horseshoe from the Naval Science, to Math, to Chemistry, to History, to Foreign Languages, even to the college of Music to get my band course registered. After a day and a half, we would be down to our last course or two but this was when it would get interesting; these last couple of courses would be filled already. What Now?

Now it was time to find a space under an oak tree on the Horseshoe to spread out the list of classes and times and the cards we had already to see if there was another class that we could take. After making our secondary choices we would try again only to find out that some of those classes were filled too. Then we would go for the third round. By this time, word had filtered around about which professors to avoid, but alas, they were teaching the only class sessions that were still open. Occasionally, we had to surrender a class that we were registered for already to get into a required class that was not going to be offered in the next semester. That meant reshuffling the entire deck of Hollerith cards. Once in a while, there was no way to get to the end of registration without getting permission from my two advisers to postpone a class until the next semester and fill the space with an elective.

This usually meant having a pretty screwed up schedule with days beginning at 8 AM and ending at 5 PM with a chemistry or physics lab. Being a morning person, I soon learned to go after the courses I needed later in the day and the 8 AM courses later. It seemed that only a few wanted those early morning classes. So I could go after the more desirable classes first and still get into the 8 AM classes at my leisure later in the registration period. Using this technique, I cut my registration time down from three days to one day. One semester, I was able to get Tuesdays off and had my only Thursday class, Naval ROTC Weekly Drill, starting at 3 PM. I had struck scheduling gold!

So after regaling my student friend with the story of registration in days of yore, her reaction was to roll her eyes and say to me that the next thing I will be telling her will be about walking 5 miles through waist deep snow to go to grade school. Come to think about it; we had some mighty cold school days in Florida! Oh MY!

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