First-Year Students Build Relationships Through Volunteerism and Teamwork

Aug 23, 2017 | Stacey Ortman, director of public information

Class of 2021

Before Zach Norman started his first University of Dubuque class, he painted picnic tables green with other first-year students. It’s a UD tradition for first-year students to volunteer at Mines of Spain State Recreation Area and E.B. Lyons Interpretative Center through New Student Orientation.

“We’re glad to be helping the community,” said Norman, a first-year student from New Richmond, Wis.

For more than eight years, UD’s newest community members have painted tables, stained shelters, hauled gravel, cleared brush, mulched trees, and more at Mines of Spain and E.B. Lyons. The community service project not only allows students to give back to the Dubuque area, but it also provides students with an opportunity to bond with their new classmates and build friendships.

“It is intended to introduce the spirit of community service and giving back. It also introduces many of our students to the wonderful resource that the Mines of Spain and E.B. Lyons affords us in Dubuque,” said Mick Miyamoto, PhD, vice president and dean of student life at UD.

Students completed the community service project in small groups that were guided upper-class first-year experience mentors. Claire Stoeffler, a senior from Prairie du Chien, Wis., said she enjoys helping new students transition to life at UD.

“I like to make the students feel as comfortable as possible on campus so that they can have the best experience here,” Stoeffler said. “This gives first-year students an idea of different ways they can volunteer and get involved in the community.”

Jordan Fischer, a first-year student from Deerfield, Wis., said it was nice see what Dubuque has to offer while painting picnic tables for others in her adopted home to use.

New Student Orientation also included an excursion to Four Mounds for teambuilding activities and a ropes course designed to promote communication and trust among the new students.

“The literature in first-year student programming is replete with data that demonstrates a very significant positive correlation between teambuilding exercises/activities and retention. The ropes course and other outward bound type activities at Four Mounds have been particularly effective,” Miyamoto said.

Marshon Crowder, a first-year student from Dubuque, helped devise a strategy with his mentor group to tackle “The Web” ropes course at Four Mounds. The group’s task was to move everyone from one side of a spider web made of ropes to the other side without going through the same hole twice. Some students were carried by their classmates through holes that were too high for them to climb through themselves.

“It was by far one of the best obstacles because you got to experience working with one another and you had to communicate,” Crowder said. He helped carry numerous students to the other side of the web.

DeMarcus Hegens, a senior who is a first-year experience mentor from Austin, Texas, debriefed his group after they successfully completed “The Web.” He told the first-year students he was proud of them and stressed that they will need to use those same communication skills when they are in classes.

“The Four Mounds activities are fun,” Hegens said, adding. “It’s nice watching the new students get to know each other and build relationships during these exercises.”