The University of Delaware has welcomed their largest freshmen class in its history. The UD Hillel Kristol Center for Jewish Life joined in the excitement by welcoming over 150 Jewish freshmen during the 12th annual Freshmen Fest program. Hillel leads this program in conjunction with Chabad and the Jewish Studies Department at UD.
Freshmen Fest participants beat the crowds and move-in on campus two days earlier than the rest of the freshmen class. The two-day orientation serves as an introduction to college and Jewish life on campus for these new students. The program is planned and run by upperclassmen that were selected in the Spring semester as Freshmen Fest leaders. Each new student is placed into a small group, led by three enthusiastic leaders, with other freshmen living in their residence hall. The diverse cohort of Freshmen Fest leaders range from sophomores to seniors and come from a multitude of campus involvements, Jewish backgrounds and areas of study.
To familiarize the new students with UD Jewish student life, the program began with a BBQ at the Chabad house and concluded with a Shabbat dinner at the UD Hillel Kristol Center building. New events of the program this year included a hypnotist performance, an informative Greek life panel, and a student-led program called College 101: Peer Q&A.
UD Hillel Freshmen Fest Intern, junior Emily Dale, chaired a three-person steering committee to head the planning of the program. “Between organizing the program schedule, training the leaders, being in charge of registration and many other aspects, I learned that there are so many little pieces that go into planning Freshmen Fest. The greatest reward was seeing all of that hard work from all those different parts come together and work smoothly,” Dale said. A past participant herself, like many of the Freshmen Fest leaders, Dale knows why the program continues to be important for its freshmen participants. “We often hear ‘I met my best friend, my boyfriend, or my roommate during Freshmen Fest’ from past participants. We know that this opportunity to meet other Jewish students has a huge impact on their college career.” Dale also spoke about the College 101: Peer Q&A session she helped coordinate. She noted that this program “provides freshmen with the opportunity to ask the upperclassmen leaders of the program honest questions about student life on campus. Freshmen come to campus and know so little about what to expect and this is an important time where they get to ask questions, ease some of their nerves, and get valuable advice from those who know this campus best”.
A first-time Freshmen Fest student leader, sophomore Aaron Policow, was a participant of Freshmen Fest just last year. “It was the most comfortable way I could have imagined moving into college,” he recalled, “and I wanted this year’s incoming class to have the same experience I did.” He added that “getting familiar with campus and fellow freshmen before the majority of others move-in is a stress relieving start to the beginning of a new chapter.” Freshmen Fest leaders offered major-focused tours of the campus to the new students, pointing out need to know classroom locations, study spots and the best restaurants on Main Street. A club fair was also organized with about 15 student organizations at UD to provide the freshmen with a jump-start to campus involvement.
Policow says his “favorite part of the program was watching the process of everyone in my group go from being semi-awkward with each other because they didn’t know anyone, to growing closer and starting to form bonds with each other.” Dale had a similar experience when she “wrapped up the program at Hillel for Shabbat dinner on Friday night. Looking around the room and seeing students who were strangers just the day before, sitting side-by-side at dinner and genuinely enjoying each other’s presence was so rewarding to see. I will always remember that feeling of pride, knowing that my committee and I made a strong difference in these students’ lives on campus.”
Freshmen Fest 2014 also included a Parents and Family Reception at the Kristol Center Hillel building following the students’ move-in. Over 250 family members showed up to meet, mingle and hear about opportunities offered to Jewish students.
Freshmen Fest is a program offered every year at the University of Delaware. Registration opens at the end of May.
Alexander Zissman is a junior at UD, majoring in Organizational and Community Leadership with minors in Business Administration and Jewish Studies with Language. Alex is from Bethesday, Maryland and serves as the Communications Intern at Hillel. He is also Religious Chair of KOACH, and a member of the UD AIPAC Cadre.