Friday, July 23, 2010

For more than 30 years, the Freshman Counselors program at Fairmont State University has created lifelong connections-giving freshmen a positive start to college life and turning student counselors into leaders.

On Saturday, July 24, hundreds of former counselors will return to campus for the Freshman Counselor Reunion. The event will begin at 4:45 p.m. with a campus tour and will continue from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Falcon Center third floor conference rooms with a social hour. Dinner is planned for 7 p.m. in Gym 1 of the Falcon Center. More than 425 people have joined a "Fairmont State Freshmen Counselors" group on Facebook.

Michael Belmear, Vice President for Student Affairs, has run the program since 1981, and says the program's main purpose is to build a sense of community among freshmen to help them have a more successful college experience.

"They feel like they come in at the bottom of the totem pole. They just left the place where have been at the top of the totem pole. We want to let them know they are not at the bottom, that we accept them as equals and that we are here to help," Belmear said.

Each year sophomores, juniors and seniors apply to be Freshmen Counselors. Counselors attend a three-day training camp at Jackson's Mill to learn how to answer questions about study skills, online resources, how to add and drop classes, financial aid and more. Team building exercises weld the group together for the grueling first week of classes, when they are each assigned a group of freshmen to mentor.

Counselors wear T-shirts and buttons for the first weeks of school so that students know who to ask questions. They get sweaty assisting parents and students unload carloads of boxes on Move-In Day. They extend a smile and a helping hand. They represent what makes this campus a warm and welcoming place.

Amie (Gump) Fazalare was a Freshman Counselor in 1986. She came to FSU from Warren, Ohio.

"I came from out of state and did not know a person on this campus when I came here," Fazalare said. "As we drove up on campus, all these Freshman Counselors ran up to my car and my parents' car and took loads of stuff and moved everything we had up to 310 Prichard Hall. We did not have to carry a thing, which was a huge relief to me and my parents because everybody was nervous. It was just an emotional day. Not having to lug all that stuff made the transition so much easier for us."

Bonds forged during camp and counseling duties change lives. Alumni credit their experience as Freshmen Counselors for building leadership skills that help them in their careers and for forming friendships that last a lifetime.

Alumna Shelly (Vance) Johnson says being a Freshman Counselor taught her that every person has gifts to share with the world.

"It was a motivating force for me to see my life as a gift. When you come out of camp, you have an energy about you that you can't hold in," she said.

To view a video on YouTube about the Freshman Counselors program, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUR_gaq0too.

Freshman Counselors help students move into the residence halls and serve as peer counselors for them during their transition to life on a university campus.

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