Last week, my supervisor Kim Cobb, director of media relations in the Office of Public Affairs, suggested I check out SMU’s new student Academic, Advising, Registration and Orientation program, better known as AARO.
She said I should check it out because I’m a new employee – a public information officer, to be exact – but I suspect she had ulterior motives. You see, I earned my undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University-College Station. If you know one thing about Aggies, it’s probably that we’re the last group of people to ever admit we’re second best at anything.
Well, I’ve got to say; the folks at AARO run a pretty slick operation.
I spent the start of this week participating in Inside AARO, a new program that gives SMU staff and faculty an inside peek at the first-year orientation process. I sat in an audience of families for every session of the two-day AARO program, solely missing out on the student-only shenanigans of “SMU Late Night!” because, you know, some of us aren’t 18 anymore and need to sleep.
For a new employee like me, not even two months on the job, Inside AARO was a valuable introduction to SMU, its traditions and its values. I came away impressed.
The 10 years that separate today from my own college orientation a decade ago make for fuzzy recollections. My memories are hazy images of giant rooms overflowing with incoming students, a computer lab packed with freshmen racing to sign up for noon classes and breakout sessions significantly larger than any AARO hosted.
It felt a lot like being squeezed through a sausage press.
At AARO, it quickly became apparent that SMU does a fine job playing to its strengths as a private university that treats its students as individuals. There was intimacy to the day, with small breakouts, one-on-one sessions for students with their advisors and a narrow AARO leader-to-student ratio. Even the largest group presentations never felt too big.
Families were constantly reassured their sons and daughters would have all the tools at their fingertips they needed to succeed, from stellar faculty (“Visit them during office hours!”) to extensive tutoring services (“Not just for struggling students, but for those hoping to turn a B to an A.”) and a slew of extracurricular activities that would stimulate them mentally and physically during their years away from home.
A smartly put together video from a history professor telling the room of parents and first-years that incoming students are all twits was a nice touch, too. As was a short and impactful speech from President Turner, delivered in-person.
By the end of the day, I wished I were either enrolling in college again or sending a child to college, which is a strong sign AARO did an excellent job.