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Academic orientation takes shape

Although the administration had hoped to make this year's freshman orientation more academic than in years past, its efforts seemed to be lost on many students.

"Maybe I missed something, but I don't think any of the [events] even attempted to be academic," James Chiang said.

The major new initiative was a summer reading requirement, a short story called "The Palace Thief." Students discussed the reading with their [first-year advisory counselors] in small groups Sunday afternoon.

"I liked the book, but a lot of people didn't seem to be that excited about it," Anastasia Dolgovskij said. "We didn't really get that in-depth."

Assistant Dean of Student Development Ryan Lombardi, who is in charge of freshman orientation, said changes to the orientation schedule also contributed to the academic emphasis. The administration will extend orientation over six weeks this year, with sessions scattered throughout that period.

"You don't orient to something in five days," Lombardi said.

Since the first few days of orientation were less jam-packed than years past, freshmen could meet with their pre-major advisers Thursday and Friday without missing other activities. The overall aim was to make sure students did not feel overwhelmed by the first day of classes, Lombardi said.

Some students, however, still felt unprepared.

"I'm kind of heading in a little blind," said Chiang, who wanted to know more about what academic demands the University will place on him.

Bridget Bailey echoed Chiang's feeling that orientation failed to provide enough practical information for students.

"They told us a lot about if you're stressed out [to] call this number... but not as much about what to expect in the first few weeks," she said.

Other students did not mind the lack of academic programming.

"There wasn't really a whole lot of academic-oriented stuff, but that's okay by me," William Wright said. "We'll have plenty of opportunities for that when the school year starts."

Orientation also provided a chance for freshmen to meet one another. One activity that elicited strong emotions was a game called Playfair, designed to help freshmen get to know each other by shedding their inhibitions.

"I thought that Playfair was really fun," Amy Wyron said. "And that's actually where I made my friends that I've been hanging out with for the last couple of days."

Hntsa Asgedom said that although Playfair "wasn't the coolest thing ever," it achieved the desired effect, since it encouraged "bonding over making fun of it."

A common complaint about orientation was the dearth of buses between East and West Campuses. From Wednesday through Friday, buses stopped serving East at 9:30 p.m. Thus, freshmen who attended a charity basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium Friday night found themselves stranded on West.

"After the basketball game, we were waiting for like an hour," Doug Miller said.

Some believed that the limited bus schedule was an effort to force students to stay on East Campus. Wyron, who attended the basketball game, resented what she perceived to be a heavy-handed approach.

"Plan your activities, but don't make us do them," she said.

Students noted that the success of orientation was largely determined by the helpfulness of their FAC. Asgedom felt his FAC was particularly knowledgeable about some of the basic issues of life at Duke, but other students were left with questions.

"There were some day-to-day issues that were left unanswered," Xander Chen said. "Like where do I get my hair cut? I don't know that. Where are ATMs aside from the one here [in the East Campus Union]? Where are the clubs?"

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