Posted April 17, 2012 by Mary Zabriskie 

Celebrating the First Day of School

Recognizing that new students continue to need ways to connect to their new home long after their parents have said their final goodbyes, a collaborative effort was undertaken by a group of staff from Washington University’s Campus Life, First Year Center, and Residential Life offices to plan a series of social and cultural events during the first month of the school year to help first-year and transfer students connect toDay1-1 campus and one another. This initiative, known as First40, has developed into several signature events from a Day1-2private class party at the Saint Louis Science Center to the soft sounds of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra playing classical music at an outdoor concert in the heart of the residential area of campus. 

Why First 40? All of the first-year students live in a residential area of campus known as the South 40. Thus it is a number that resonates with our students.

Another signature program, Day 1, was born from a conversation with student affairs staff and student leaders about how to take away some of the anxiety students face when classes begin. 

For so many of our students, the first day of school meant taking pictures to commemorate the big day as well as packing up school supplies, snacks, and a healthy dose of courage before heading out the door to plunge into a year of new academic possibilities. So what does the first day look like at Washington University? All of the above.

On Day 1, as students head to class, staff members stand next to brightly decorated tables covered with highlighters, pens, pencils, and sticky note squares. Students are encouraged to grab a juice box, granola bar, or fruit snack to eat on the way to class. For many students, the best part of the experience is when they can write a Day1-3message home on a dry erase board and stand, most smiling broadly, as they are photographed on their first day of school—college style. All of the school supplies, snacks, and the message board bear the First 40 logo and website address where students can find information on a myriad of social and cultural events taking place on and around campus during their first 40 days at Washington University. 

When the program first started, initial concerns that our students might find Day 1 a bit silly were quickly put to rest when the supplies and snacks disappeared quickly. This year, upper class students said that their parents were expecting a new picture on the First 40 website and Facebook page and got in line for their first-day-of-school photo. A law student on his way to his first lecture asked sheepishly if he might have a juice box and granola bar. “Help yourself,” we replied. “Do you want a picture to commemorate the big day to share with your family back home?” As he began composing his message board greeting, we knew we’d struck student gold with Day 1. 

Photos provided by Mary Zabriskie.

Mary Zabriskie

Mary Zabriskie is the Assistant Director of Campus Life at Washington University.

Mary Zabriskie is the co-chair of the First 40 planning group. She is a graduate of Regis College and Northeastern University School of Law. In addition to her work with new students, Mary also oversees the university’s student entrepreneurship program and chairs a committee charged with creating professional development opportunities for student services staff.


Note: To post a comment to The Commons, you must login to the ACUI website.
about the commons
The Commons is the online hub to discover new ideas and learn what is going on in the college union and student activities profession.
more ...
about the contributors

Meet the ACUI members who have volunteered to share their knowledge and insights as regular authors in The Commons.

more ...