Convocation welcomes new students, new opportunities

By Alexandra Kukulka

by Heather Schroering and Alexandra Kukulka

The arduous task of last year’s collegewide prioritization process left some of the Columbia community feeling defeated, but spirits seemed high as a new crop of freshman and transfer students buzzed about campus at the new student convocation on Aug. 31.

Speakers at both the student and faculty and staff the same morning convacation, have seemingly set the bar for the upcoming academic year.

President Warrick L. Carter announced at the faculty and staff convocation in the Conaway Center’s Film Row Cinema that faculty and staff, excluding those in bargaining negotiations, will receive a 3 percent salary increase for the first time in two years effective Sept. 15, causing the audience to erupt in applause.

He also said the college will, for the first time, tap some of its reserve funding to use toward recruiting new students. The office of Student Affairs will receive $4 million over the next two years, he said.

“The thing that’s most important about what happened [in 2011–2012] is we upheld our traditions, and we were true to our core values,” Carter said. “But we’re moving into these coming two years that I’m referring to as ‘hyper-recruitment mode.’”

It would seem to be necessary because, according to Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, student enrollment has decreased yet again. The college has lost 500 returning students and 250 transfer students, for a total loss of approximately 750 students.

He added that 310 students were dismissed, primarily because of financial debt of $7,000 or more. According to Kelly, the college dismissed only 90 students the previous year.

He also said this year’s graduate class is the largest and most diverse the college has seen since 2006, with more than 200 students.

But the energy was high, as well as the temperature, at the new student convocation in Grant Park. Jocelyn Delk, festival and events producer in the Student Affairs office, coordinated the event, and said she believes new students bring a “fresh take” on the year ahead to those already on campus.

“I feel like every time [new students] come, the energy comes back up,” Delk said. “They haven’t been tainted by anything that’s going on with us. It’s a new excited group that’s excited to start college. They bring a great, new energy.”

The event, which was mandatory for all freshman and transfer students, provided newcomers the opportunity to acquaint themselves with student organizations on campus.

Those who visited the Center for Book and Paper Arts’ table could make their own postcards using a heat press.

Speakers, including student government president Cassandra Norris, Carter and Kelly pumped up the crowd as they spoke about the new year.

It was Carter’s last new student convocation, as he will retire in August 2013, one year earlier than planned. He said he hopes new students will engage with the college and use its resources early on in their college careers.

“A lot of kids are scattered from all over the globe, and feeling connected to an institution is very important,” Carter said. “Make a friend … Seek out teachers, seek out staff and get questions answered.”

Despite the heat, many students said they enjoyed the event. Catherine LaRocca, freshman theater major, said she found Kelly’s “Hell Yeah Liturgy” inspiring, and that, overall, convocation was an exhilarating experience.

“[Convocation was] overwhelming but exciting,” LaRocca said. “It makes you very eager to pursue your passion.”