Hawkeye Guides greet new students with gusto

Photo by Tim Schoon.

Eyes wait anxiously as the shuffling feet subside to whispers. Suddenly, the room kicks into high gear as Hawkeye Guides flood in, running and cheering across the room—all dressed in black and gold, the mark of a Hawkeye. Over the speakers plays “Iowa Fight Song,” a tune each first-year student will forever recognize as they step onto Hawkeye grounds.

For UI sophomore Hanna Wright, these memories bring her back to her first days on campus during Orientation. Since then, she’s hoped to be on the stage, wearing proudly the UI colors. The Decatur, Ill., native says it was the excitement of those Orientation leaders that made her excited to be there.

Wright, along with 27 others, has dedicated hours of training during the spring semester. Together they’re preparing to face a new group of incoming first-year students this summer and to help bridge the gap between high school and college.

Many, including Wright, say they do this because they want the chance to help students in a time when so many questions arise.

“It’s exciting and intimidating at the same time,” says Wright, a first-time Hawkeye Guide. “I’m very excited to be the first person they see on campus but that’s also really intimidating because the students and parents are looking to you to be knowledgeable and a leader.”

But for junior Tim Clay, a history education major and one of four returning members, becoming a Hawkeye Guide was a two-fold opportunity.

“This program solidifies my decision to be a high school history teacher,” he says. “The students are just fantastic and they’re the ones that make it worth it and made me decide to come back.”

Hawkeye Guides, formerly called Student Advisors, provide transitional tools and resources that help make college life more manageable. This year, the Orientation program went through numerous changes—the new name change redefines roles and distinguishes the guides apart from professional academic advisors on campus, says Jon Sexton, director of Orientation Services.

Previously, students were divided into student advisors and parent advisors, where they focused on just one population. Hawkeye Guides now are required to be more versatile and better cross-trained, capable of dealing with every group.

Other changes include cutting down the academic schedule–building portion of the program into a single day to combat overwhelming concerns.

“Assessment data told us students were reporting a high level of exhaustion and a high level of concern about class schedules over the two-day period,” Sexton says. “So we worked to create a more personal dynamic in the program by lowering the student-to-Hawkeye Guide ratio and the student-to-academic advisor ratio.”

To become a guide, students are put through a rigorous interview and training processes. This year, about 130 students applied for the Hawkeye Guide position. Twenty-four of these applicants were hired as first-year Hawkeye Guides; four others are returners. Students first go through an individual round of interviews. During this stage, coordinators look for three components. The student must be able to acquire and retain the information required, have empathy to connect with students who may have concerns at a variety of levels, and be good, interactive communicators.

From there only 40 are chosen to move into the 90-minute group interview portion, where a series of group projects and leadership activities are applied to test each applicant.

“By the time students get to the group interview, we feel we could hire just about everyone, but we’re really looking for a certain team dynamic,” says Tina Arthur, assistant director of Orientation Services.

The candidates are all notified of their position by Thanksgiving. As the spring semester begins students jump right into training sessions in class form. The class, called Orientation Leader Training, can be built into the student’s schedule by registering on ISIS for two semester hours. This year, training sessions are two hours long, an hour shorter than last year, and include a variation of group activities, lecture-style classes, and assignments or quizzes.

Once the spring semester ends, Hawkeye Guides rush into two weeks of summer training before the Orientation programs begin. For UI junior and returning guide Megan Dial, one of the biggest challenges of the program is maintaining morale throughout that summer training.

“In the end it’s definitely worth it,” says Dial, a journalism and English major. “Some of those days when it’s eight hours of training, it gets to be really tiring but it is definitely worth it. There’s still a group I’ll never forget and when I think about that experience, it reminds me why I love this job.”

During the two-month summer period, Orientation staff administer 14 programs. Professional coordinators organize the program presented to the incoming class, but Hawkeye Guides and offices across the University facilitate sessions for students and parents, Arthur says. Each Hawkeye Guide is compensated with a $3,200 stipend and the option for on-campus housing.

“Every year they develop a really strong identity with the concept of being a part of the ‘O-team,’ the Orientation team, and by the end of summer it’s like they’ve become a small family,” says Sexton. “It’s fascinating to see the student staff’s connection with the program each year.”

It’s the friendships made, the experiences to be had, and the familiar wave of a first-year student in the distance that keep these Hawkeye Guides cheering on the Iowa name.