Each year, a dedicated group of sophomores, juniors and seniors comes together to ignite new students’ Panther pride and help them feel at ease at FIU through an extended orientation “staycation”: Panther Camp.
Hosted by the Office of Orientation and Family Programs, Panther Camp is an elective, traditions-based program offered on campus to all newly admitted first-year and transfer students. Panther Camp assists new students as they transition to college life and focuses on instilling school spirit by building relationships with peers and cultivating future campus leaders.
Unlike the traditional orientation session all new students must complete before enrolling in their first semester, which is primarily informational, Panther Camp is coordinated by fellow students and connects newcomers to each other and to the university through team-building activities and more.
“Coming from a community college into a university was terrifying to me, but my first encounter with student engagement at FIU was going to Panther Camp. [It] was the best decision I could have made for myself to prepare for the continuation of my collegiate studies here,” said Kyonna James, a transfer student who entered her first semester at FIU with a group of friends she made at camp, and whose experience inspired her to become a facilitator this year.
James and a group of fellow camp facilitators shared their experiences and offered advice to guide new Panthers on their FIU journeys:
Rodoshi Sharife is a first-generation student and a junior majoring in biology and natural and applied sciences on a pre-physician associate track. In her time at FIU, she has found that honoring her South Asian heritage, rather than trying to conform to Miami’s cultural standards, gave her the opportunity to share her personal experiences with her peers and learn from theirs as well.
“Hold on to as many pieces of yourself as you can. Growth and change are good, but remember that you also bring something different and unique to the table that is even more important. Through my activities, I've taught my peers about my culture, traditions and ways to live, and in return, I found commonality and foundations to build beautiful connections,” Sharife says.
James, a senior majoring in psychology with a minor in education, said all incoming, first-year students should join at least one organization on campus. Her own experience at Panther Camp helped her make friends and inspired her to become a Panther Camp facilitator.
“[It] is the best way to make friends and connect with new people here at FIU. Personally, joining organizations and attending club meetings helped me to come out of my shell of being a shy girl and dealing with social anxiety by broadening my horizons and educating me in people skills, learning about different cultures and ideas,” James says.
Emily “Mily” Martinez, a junior majoring in criminal justice, agrees. Getting involved on campus through clubs and organizations helped her overcome the nerves she experienced as a new student.
“Get outside of your comfort zone. It is so easy to stay doing what you're used to, but in that, you never learn more about yourself. Even if it’s difficult to put yourself out there, just remember that it takes practice. No one’s good at anything when they start out. Starting out at FIU, I was so nervous to meet new people and hesitated before everything – you’ll get past it!” Martinez says. “College is only for a little bit of time, so enjoy it to the fullest!”
Christopher Alfaro is a senior majoring in international business with certificates in entrepreneurship and international logistics. He encourages students to meet with their academic advisor early and often to stay on track toward their degrees. Students can schedule an appointment with their advisor using their Panther Success Network (PSN) portal, and Alfaro suggests following up with them using the PSN messaging feature.
“I know picking classes is stressful at times, and you may not always know what classes to take to stay on track for graduation, especially at the beginning. Try to meet with them a week or two before class registration opens so that you can discuss what classes make the most sense for you in that semester and to make sure you know what else you have missing,” Alfaro says. “My advisor was also a great helper in changing my major and adding two certificates to my degree if that is something that you may be thinking about.”
Excited to meet these Panther Camp facilitators and more in person? There is still time to register for the final Panther Camp session of the summer, taking place at MMC on August 15-16. Visit FIU Orientation and Family Programs to learn more.