by Patricia Erikson

ElsieStudents have moved into their residence halls. Classes have begun. And canines Olive, Elsie, and Francie have reported for duty.

Feeling at home and warding off homesickness are two ingredients in a successful transition for college students. Knowing this, Saint Joseph’s College has developed a series of programs to help–First Year Student Series: College 101.

Before grabbing their towels and heading for the cooling powers of Sebago Lake, students are stopping by a dorm lounge for a “Yappy Hour” to meet the canine celebrities–aka the Canine Assistants–and to meet staff and other students.

There’s Olive, a 10 year old, 40 pound gentle soul of a hound. Then there’s Elsie, a 6 year old, 12 pound sprite of a dog with terrier spunk who is flying about the room and making people smile. And making a cameo appearance is Francie, a chocolate brown 15 pound border terrier.

“Can I pet them?” a student asks.

Director of the Counseling Center Liz Wiesen raises her hands, “That’s why they’re here. Pick them up. Hold them. Whatever you like. They’re here for you.”

A couple dozen students drop by over the course of the hour of this one day of a three-day program.

Counseling Center staff help the College community at large to understand that students have left behind their families, their hometown friends, and their pets. Although students are making a new family on campus, they can still feel a lot of loneliness while they build new relationships.

Programs like these have emerged nationally to address a flagging rate of retention among first-year students. In 2015, nationwide, only 61 percent of students who started college in the fall returned to the same institution in the following year. At Saint Joseph's College, however, innovative programming has led to an increase in student persistence, such that over 80% of first year students return the following year, which exceeds the national average.

Wiesen said, “Studies have shown that it’s all about academic and social integration. Connecting with the campus community is a significant factor in persistence. The first six weeks are critical.”

Here are some more programs in the series:

Homesick as Hell

Over 65% of First Year students feel homesick . TRUTH. Learn some strategies to make the adjustment to college a little less difficult.

Wednesday, September 5th, 4:00-5:00

Alfond Center Student Lounge

Live Like a Monk

This workshop will talk about ways to get your feet under you so that you can figure out the lay of the land and feel comfortable on campus.

Wednesday, September 12th , 4:00-5:00

Alfond Center Student Lounge

Roommate: Deal or Ditch?

Sharing a small space with anyone is a challenge. This presentation will help you figure out when and how to best deal with a situation or when and how to call it quits.

Wednesday, September 19th , 4:00-5:00

Alfond Center Student Lounge

The Friendship Paradox

Making friends in college is important, but it takes time.   Learn about how developing college friends is similar to yet different from past experiences.

Wednesday, September 26th , 4:00-5:00

Alfond Center Student Lounge

Thank you to Binga’s of Windham for donating delicious appetizers for the students to gather and meet new friends.

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