People might assume University of Iowa employees are able to kick up their heels and relax once the summer months roll around. In some cases, that might be true. For Jon Sexton, interim director of Orientation Services, not so much.
Sexton’s job focuses on planning and oversight of all UI Orientation programs for first-year and transfer students. On average, 4,000 first-year students and 1,500 students (and countless parents) go through Orientation each year, and most of them hit the Iowa campus at its warmest and sunniest. Preparations for the busy summer period occur year-round, as staff is recruited and hired in the fall and trained throughout the spring for the summer programs.
Sexton came to the University in 2004 for graduate study in postsecondary student development. Toward the end of his graduate program, he accepted a position in University Housing and has settled into his first year at the helm of Orientation.
fyi caught up with Sexton just before the Orientation hustle and bustle reached full tilt to talk about his favorite aspect of the job, what advice he gives to incoming students, and his annual “TV star” moment.
What attracted you to the University in general, and to your Orientation job in particular?
I immediately fell in love with the traditions and atmosphere that I found in Iowa City when I first visited the area in 2004. While I was in college I was a student orientation leader for several years. That experience always seemed more like fun to me than “work,” so when I had the opportunity to apply for a professional position in Orientation Services here at Iowa, it seemed like the perfect fit. There are a lot of favorite aspects of my work, but I’d say the highlights are the relationships that we build with our student staff members and having the opportunity to get new students excited about their experience at Iowa.
A few of my favorite things
Drink: fresh-ground coffee
Weekday lunch spot: Old Chicago
Book: Tuesdays with Morrie and the Harry Potter series
Movies: Good Will Hunting
TV show: Modern Family and The Office
Music: Dave Matthews Band, Counting Crows, John Coltrane
Sports teams: Hawkeye sports in general and the Chicago Cubs
You have thousands of students converging on campus this summer for Orientation. How do you keep your sanity?
The professional and student staff members whom I work with in Orientation are amazing. They put a lot of energy and hard work into creating a positive experience for new students.
What information about the University do you impress upon the incoming students during Orientation?
I always stress the importance of getting involved in a variety of ways to get the most out of the Iowa experience. I stress the five expectations of the IOWA Challenge (excel, stretch, engage, choose, and serve). In particular, I talk about the importance of interacting with faculty members in one-on-one conversation, seeking opportunities to expand their learning opportunities outside of the classroom, and finding ways to get meaningfully involved in the University community.
Who’s typically more anxious during Orientation: the incoming students or their parents?
It depends on their personality and background. Working with parents is interesting because they tend to have a lot of questions and don’t hesitate to ask them; with the students it may take awhile before they feel comfortable asking questions in a large group setting.
If you could trade places with someone on the UI campus for a day, what would you do?
This is tough because there are so many amazing things that people do here. If I had to pick one role to take on for a day, though, I think it would be fun to be Herky. I have a playful personality so having the opportunity to engage with people all over campus in a role that embodies Hawkeye spirit would be really neat.
When you were a kid, what did you want to do when you grew up?
When I was a kid I wanted to be a baseball player so badly that I used to practice signing my name quickly and efficiently so I could provide plenty of autographs for fans. That dream probably came from watching Field of Dreams and The Sandlot one too many times.
What are your interests outside of work?
I really enjoy hanging out with my family. My wife and I have a son who recently turned 1—it’s been fun watching him make new discoveries. One Sunday a few weeks ago I took him to Macbride Hall and he heard his echo for the first time, whereupon he began to yell repeatedly by the north stairwell and disturb everyone in the area…
Other personal interests include participating in intramural sports. I try to stay involved in flag football and softball. I organize teams each fall and spring with a group of undergraduate and graduate students—keep an eye out for the Scranton Bears. It’s always fun when a student in one of my college transition classes sees me out there and does a double-take to confirm that their instructor is on the field.
What would your colleagues be surprised to learn about you?
I was in the choir while I was a student at Central College, and Iowa Public Television recorded our winter concert my first year there. I usually forget that they broadcast the concert each year until I get the inevitable question from someone stopping by or e-mailing me to ask, “Did you know you were on TV last night?” It would be more exciting if I didn’t look so different at that time. Whenever someone tells me they saw it, I feel like they just watched one of those awkward home videos that so many of us have from adolescence.