The sights, sounds, and emotions of new-student Orientation Week remain vivid in the memory of most Northwestern students and alumni. UNW Student Services staff member Olivia Holloway '14 shares what makes Orientation Week, Northwestern, and the students she is privileged to serve so special.
What do you do at Northwestern?
I work with new-student onboarding. I help newly admitted students transition well to campus. I’m really passionate about their first-year experience.
More specifically, I host registration days that take place over the summer—and orientation for our transfer students in January—and help students get acquainted with support services, resources, and academic departments.
How long have you been here?
I celebrated five years as a Northwestern employee just last week. I was here as a student for four years before that. I started working full-time as a dual enrollment admissions counselor right after I graduated. I stepped into my current role in May 2017.
What do you love most about working for UNW?
I love that everything orbits around this hub of community. On the most difficult of days, there are people here that have my back and care about me as a whole person. And we really love our students here and want to see them thrive.
Advice for New Students: "Allow yourself to be present and enter into the moment God has given you here... there is so much space for growth, health, healing, and a deeper understanding of yourself and God at Northwestern." —Olivia Holloway '14, Student Services
What brought you to Northwestern as student?
I was drawn to the community and the space to grow in my faith with likeminded peers.
It’s actually come full circle; there’s a group of us that became friends in college, and now we’re having babies together!
What was your major?
I majored in Young Adult Ministries. I knew I wanted to work with college students. I wanted to invest deeply in the college realm. I have since then obtained my Masters in Higher Education (from another institution). The college years are a great developmental part of a student’s journey. The students are a delight to work with.
Orientation Week is a big deal at Northwestern. Describe the week.
There are different types of orientation that take place on campus in August depending on student type. Our earliest arrivals are our fall athletes. The athletes connect with coaches and are able to really bond with their team that first week.
Next comes International Student Orientation and Multicultural Orientation, giving these students a chance to connect a couple days before General Orientation begins.
Friday, August 23 is when the five-day, All-Student Orientation begins. These days are filled with activities and events to welcome all of our new students into the community and help them get connected with one another and with important resources.
Is Orientation Week your favorite time of year?
It is. Orientation Week is a culmination of many, many hours of planning and prayer. It’s the most worthwhile feeling in the world to experience the new-student orientation day when it finally arrives. The reassurance we see on the students’ faces and in their families is priceless. You can see them relax in a way that says, “I’m here. I’m home.” That settling in is really awesome to see.
Orientation Week requires a lot of stamina! What keeps you going?
Everything you love deeply involves some stress. But a lot of the work my team does is on the front end. We organize and run new-student arrival, and then hand the baton to the Student Life team. They invest day and night throughout Orientation Week and into the school year, making themselves available and helpful to new students. They are awesome!
One thing that makes a significant difference in the work we do is the camaraderie and heart of the First-Year planning team. We trust in a God that is really involved and cares very deeply about our hearts and the students’ lives. We plan and prepare and care deeply about our incoming students!
What makes Orientation at UNW so special?
One thing that is unique to Northwestern is the high degree of staff involvement during Orientation Week and throughout the summer on Eagle Advising Days. It’s a cross-department experience that includes faculty and staff from pretty much every building, department, and support team on campus. It shows the students and their families that they belong here; they aren’t just part of the student body, they’re part of a whole community.
After one of our recent Eagle Advising Days, a student sent feedback that said,
“There's just no comparison to the level of care, knowledge, and responsiveness of the staff at UNW. Everyone who I have worked with has made me feel so welcome, and I am truly excited to be part of this wonderful community!”
What is your favorite part of the week?
I help run the check-in, so I love the student arrival portion of orientation! But I usually find myself staying into the night even after check-in has closed. I just love seeing the connections that happen with students that first day.
That first evening, all of the new students gather together on Reynolds Field for a drone picture of the incoming freshman class. They’ve arrived, and now they’re part of the Northwestern community. It’s really special.
What advice would you give incoming students?
Allow yourself to be present and enter into the moment God has given you here! Now more than ever there are so many distractions at play. But there is so much space for growth, health, healing, and a deeper understanding of yourself and God at Northwestern.
This is only a season. I deeply encourage you to enter into what you’re experiencing while you are here.
What about students that feel nervous and uncertain those first days?
One thing I say all the time is, “All is grace.” There will be sweet moments in the transition to Northwestern, and there will be really difficult and mundane moments. I want students to see that there is grace and growth even in what might be hard that first week.
It’s natural for students to have a level of homesickness and to wonder: “Did I make the right choice?” or “Am I at the right place?” I remember feeling all of that. It’s all very normal in any larger transition. It’s normal to feel anxiety and stress. I would say to them, “Allow yourself to fully feel it. All of it. It’s worth the effort and time. Process it with the new friends you meet that first week. They’re going through it, too. You’ll really grow as a result."
Encouragement for Parents: "Know that we pray for your student. All of our hearts are in tune to caring for our students; to enter where we can to help them grow and succeed."
What would you tell parents who are wondering if their son or daughter will thrive at Northwestern?
Trust the process. Trust that there are people here to care for your student and also to challenge them. We’re here to equip them!
And know that we pray for your student. All of our hearts are in tune to caring for our students; to enter where we can to help them grow and succeed.
What does the rest of the year typically hold for you once Orientation Week is done?
There’s a great deal of planning and preparation that goes into Orientation Week and other new-student events that take place throughout the year, but I’m also part of a cross-departmental team that meets regularly all year to make sure students are thriving.
There’s no other season like this in a student’s life—when they’re surrounded by new, deep friendships and by faculty and staff that are committed to their growth, faith, and success in life. That’s part of the gift of grace.
See the full Fall 2019 Orientation Schedule here.