NSO group

Eda Uyanik's NSO group from the summer of 2019

Incoming Penn State students will arrive on campus this summer for New Student Orientation — a program to introduce students to the campus, faculty and more.

Penn State’s orientation leaders start preparing for NSO during the spring semester, according to fall 2022 orientation leader Mikayla Obrist

Obrist (senior-earth sciences) said the preparation process began with a class called HIED 303: Leadership Development through Orientation, which was “extremely helpful” as she learned how to develop “good people skills.”

“We did a two-week training beforehand, and then we started orientation,” Obrist said.

The experience of being an orientation leader last summer helped not only with her public speaking but also with “keeping an open mind when meeting new people,” Obrist said.

“I choose to be an orientation leader because I am really shy and hate public speaking,” Obrist said. “I also hate the color pink, so I figure that having all the things I hate in one job might be a good learning experience for me — it certainly was.”

Although the job can be “challenging, especially while wearing those hot-pink outfits,” Obrist said it’s “rewarding at the end.”

“The best thing we can recommend to students is to keep an open mind; you never know what is going to happen at college,” Obrist said. “You should be open to trying new things. College is a huge learning curve, and an open mind is an awesome mindset to have coming in.”

Former orientation leader Senuda Ratnayake said although “students are the priority, parents are also present in the scene.”

“For the parent’s advice, I based it on my own experience since my mom used to call me 35 times a day,” Ratnayake (junior-engineering) said. “I think most students need time to adapt, and having a little distance from home will help them develop new ideas.”

For Ratnayake, one of the biggest challenges faced by first-year students is “learning how college and high school are different.”

“Some of the students come from different backgrounds and different cultures, which sometimes you don’t see in high school, especially when it comes to a college like Penn State where the diversity is so large, it could be intimidating for some students,” Ratnayake said.

Ratnayake said the trick to “make new friends in a new environment” is “trying to talk to new people even if it’s a little bit scary at first.”

“Keep in mind that you are a Penn Stater now and that everyone is the same here,” Ratnayake said. “Experience all you can. College is a place where you can make mistakes responsibly and learn from them so you don't get in trouble later on.”


As for NSO, Ratnayake said it’s probably going to be “a long and tiring day;” however, it will also be “informative and fun,” as this is students’ first step into “the real college experience.”

“Don’t be scared if you come alone,” Ratnayake said. “Our objective as orientation leaders is to make sure that new students are not isolated; every student will get paired up with someone.”

As an orientation leader, Ratnayake said students will learn “collaborative skills, problem-solving skills and public speaking.”

“If you decide to be an orientation leader, my biggest advice is to always have a nice smile on your face and be very welcoming. No matter if you might have a really bad morning or rough night,” Ratnayake said.

He encourages new orientation leaders to give their “best every day” as they’re “opening the doors of Penn State to new students of all kind.”

“Every day, a new group sees you for the first time. You might be seeing different groups each day, but that group is seeing you for the first time, and for them, you are their one and only orientation leader,” Ratnayake said. “The start of their experience depends on you.”

For Laurant Morris, the biggest advice an orientation leader can share with their NSO group is to “get involved on campus” and “don’t lose those opportunities to learn something new.”

“You'll never know where your heart will end up going,” Morris (sophomore-division of undergraduate studies) said. “We drilled the date of the Involvement Fair into every student's head — just go around, sign up for things, see what you like. You never know what could happen.”

Morris said orientation leaders are usually “motivated to teach more about Penn State,” especially to first-year students who are still “deciding and accommodating themselves to university life.”

“I choose to be an orientation leader because I have a strong love for Penn State. I like to walk around campus, just thinking, ‘Wow, I’m really here,’ and as many other leaders, I just wanted to share my love for the community by introducing first-year students to our resources,” Morris said.

For Morris, the most important part of being an orientation leader is to “be able to motivate students without making them feel overwhelmed.”

“There’s a lot of resources, you are never alone, we can help you here. For example, [Counseling and Psychological Services] has support groups that can help if the change is too overwhelming,” Morris said.

Morris said even after some time passed, she’s still getting recognized around campus by new students.

“I got called a ‘micro-influencer,’” Morris said. “Orientation leaders have a lot of influence in your first steps as a college student — people remember you. People remember what you told them. You don't realize how many lives you may change as a leader.”

For Morris, the best advice for new students is to “take their time to find themselves.”

“Talk to people, get to know them. And don't be stressed if you have no major — this is the moment to find yourself and your people.”


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