By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Montana State University-Northern took 35 students to the Bear Paw Mountains over the weekend to teach them about Northern, university life, the Havre community and themselves.
Denise Brewer, director of student activities at Northern, said the trial run of Discovery Weekend was designed to help students fit in at Northern and Havre, so they will want to stay for their entire college career.
Brian Merritt of Butte, a freshman who went on Discovery Weekend, said the weekend activities will help him as a student and as a member of the Havre community.
"I can better understand what I need to do and where I can go," he said.
It also helped him as a member of Northern's student body, he added.
"It let me meet new people and make a lot of friends," he said.
Northern senior Amy Skryja, who helped Brewer plan and run the event, said friendships developed quickly during the weekend.
"By the end of the weekend they all had nicknames for each other," she said. "I've never seen a group of people who knew absolutely nothing about each other become friends so fast."
Merritt and freshman Keith Burgad of Missoula both said the workshops also will help their university careers. Workshop subjects included adjusting to a new roommate, avoiding procrastination, joining campus clubs and recreation activities, knowing learning styles and getting good grades.
Burgad said it helped him better prepare for the differences between high school and college.
"Now that I'm paying for it I'll work harder," Burgad said. "I don't want to screw it up."
Brewer also gave high marks to the weekend.
"It's been the most exciting thing, I think, for me in 15 years," she said. "Everything just clicked, all weekend."
Activities began Friday on campus, including a workshop for parents of students whe participated in Discovery Weekend. The parents were invited to Friday's on-campus activities, which included continental breakfast while students moved into dormitories, an Indian taco feed and American Indian dancing in the evening.
The students traveled to Camp Kiwanis at Beaver Creek Park Friday night, for a weekend full of workshops, barbecues, hiking, canoeing, tournaments and live entertainment.
Brewer said she got the idea for the weekend from a conference she attended about university orientation. Some other schools have been doing similar programs, although maybe not as intense, she said.
The students at the event evaluated the workshops, which will be used to tailor future Discovery Weekends, Brewer said.
The organizers of the weekend also will meet with the participants periodically, starting in three weeks, to find out how they are adjusting to college life and to get feedback about the weekend, she added.
"The whole focus of this program is to help these students succeed and keep them here," she said.
Studies have shown that the first few weeks are crucial in a student's decision to remain at a school, Brewer said.
Brewer said the university decided to start small, with a cap of 40 students the first year. Twenty-nine freshmen traveled to Camp Kiwanis Friday, and were joined by six freshman volleyball players Sunday, she said.
The Skylights hosted a volleyball tournament Friday and Saturday.
The students who went on the weekend are showing signs of leadership, Brewer said. Some volunteered to help set up Tuesday's orientation activities, and were helping other students who didn't attend the weekend, she said.
Brewer said she expects to recruit future helpers for Discovery Weekend from this weekend's students. Eight Northern students, including five dormitory resident assistants, helped this weekend.
Merritt and Burgad both said they were interested in helping in the future.
"They made it really fun and entertaining, and I want to do the same for future freshmen," Burgad said.
Events to welcome students to Northern continue this week, including plays, concerts, barbecues, a tailgate party for the first home football game Saturday, and a dance that night.