Several changes to freshman orientation will go into effect next fall in what Solberg Hall director Maggie Miller calls a “rebranding” of the current system.

According to director of student activities Jeff Venekamp, Augustana’s retention rate, which he said is “not a bragging point,” was the catalyst for the changes. He said the 78 percent rate from freshman to sophomore year shows a lack of strong initial connections being created in the early stages of college life.

Additions to the current program are all designed to connect with students in their first few weeks of school, Venekamp said.

Freshmen have participated in semester-long events like the 30 Day Challenge and Dog Eat Dog (DED) in previous years, which Miller said will still be in place alongside new programs. One of these new programs, called BOOST!, is a series of events “aimed at enhancing the Augie experience.”

According to Miller, the first year experience will now be called “Viking Voyage.”

“We felt the term ‘guide’ more closely aligned with the important roles our student leaders play to first-year students, guiding them along a journey,” Miller said.

In keeping with this theme, these student leaders, formerly known simply as new student orientation (NSO) group leaders, will be called “Viking Guides”. However, their name is not the only thing that will change; Viking Guides will be involved in more ways for a longer period of time than former NSO leaders.

This is particularly true, according to Venekamp, of the freshman dorm experience. Residence Life will see a large majority of the tweaks to the first year experience.

“Residence halls or a dorm room is not just a room, but rather a home and a significant community,” Miller said.

To create this feeling of community, peer advisors (PAs) for the freshmen dorms will also serve as the students’ Viking Guides in order to create what Miller called a “seamless transition” into college life. This will make the guides a constant presence in the students’ lives. In addition to living with them in the dorms, they will be involving themselves in Welcome Week, first semester events like DED and attending the new student seminar.

“By merging and building strong collaboration on campus, we can give our students more,” Miller said.

Though some freshman PAs, like sophomore Kat Van Gerpen, are apprehensive that the increased involvement will “hinder” her from doing her job as a PA, she also sees the benefits of live-in PAs doubling as Viking Guides.

“It’s beneficial to have someone that they’re working with everyday live in the same building as them, probably just down the hall,” Van Gerpen said.

Freshman Mason Van Essen agreed, saying combining the positions strengthens the relationships being made in the weeks after freshmen arrive.

“Instead of the floor bonding slowly, simply by living together, or getting to know people through your NSO group in your dorm, you can now integrate Solberg-Bergsaker connections, as well as connections within your building and floor,” Van Essen said.

As a future PA, Van Essen hopes to create “the kind of camaraderie freshman guys want and need” with floor events like sports-viewing parties, monthly trips to Buffalo Wild Wings and competing as a team for DED. He said he believes involvement with the same group of people will foster “tangible” connections that will help first-year students both socially and academically.

“If you have many contacts within your peers, professors and extra curricular activities you will be valued as an asset to the community compared to working through life’s hurdles on your own,” Van Essen said.