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SOULs share their hearts for Miami

08/16/2012

Michele Bailey
photo: Jeff Sabo, Miami University
Listening to her promote campus musicals and hockey games, it seems nearly impossible to believe now, but sophomore Cami Gilman was "terrified" when she came to college as a first-year. Then she walked into Shriver Center and saw 20 SOULs in red Miami T-shirts eagerly welcoming new students and their parents.

“They were having fun and dancing around, and I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe I can find a place here.’ ”

And she has. So much so that the Evansville, Ind., dietetics major joined 19 other SOULs this summer to introduce about 3,725 first-year students to Miami.

So what do SOULs – which stands for Student Orientation Undergraduate Leaders – actually do? Buffy Stoll, director of new student programs, takes a big breath before she answers.

“What don’t they do? During orientation, SOULs wake up at the crack of dawn, help welcome new students and family members, perform vignettes about roommates, parents, diversity, and academic advising, and lead small groups in discussions about everything from liberal education and move-in day to diversity and rules about alcohol.” That covers only half of their 17-hour day during a total of 16 sessions.

“Rocky Road” Rob
One activity that touches the SOULs and their students is small-group discussion, which usually starts out with icebreakers in the morning. By evening, conversations can become quite serious.

Rob Alston, aka “Rocky Road” Rob, recalls one first-year student sharing the pain of going through high school with bone cancer. Another brought up the significance of his sexuality and what it meant to him to be the only one in his high school to come out.

“They don’t have to share, but they usually do,” says Alston, a sophomore majoring in German, minoring in entrepreneurship, and reveling in MU Jazz Ensemble, Collegiate Chorale and Stage Left.

Gilman, who adopted the nickname “Cotton Candy” Cami, chimes in, “We’re a resource for first-years, and they shouldn’t be afraid to come to us if they have any problems. When I went through orientation, I discovered I could go to my SOUL, and he would move mountains for me.”

Which explains their alliterative nicknames. They use them throughout orientation to help new students remember their names later when they run into each other on campus.

“I want to be that guy they see across the street, wave to, and yell, ‘Hey, Rocky Road Rob, how you doing?’ ”

Something similar happened to Michele Bailey her first year, but in reverse. She was shocked and then pleased when her SOUL spotted her near the beginning of first semester, called her by name and asked about her classes.

“It was really comforting to know, hey, he remembers me,” says Bailey, a junior majoring in political science and anthropology who participates in Miami University Student Foundation, Love You Like a Sister and the speech and debate team.

written by Donna Boen, editor of the Miamian

The Four C's

More than 160 students applied to join the SOUL staff this year. Buffy Stoll, director of new student programs, attributes the overwhelming interest to their eagerness to share their love and excitement about Miami. For her, the SOULs’ main goal is to contribute to the key purpose of orientation, which she defines as helping new students become more confident, comfortable, connected and curious.

“We call these the four C’s, and the SOULs naturally embody these characteristics, so it’s not a far stretch for them to inspire our new students in these ways,” Stoll says. “Orientation is so much more than going home with a schedule and registering for classes. We ask the students and parents to connect with us, and a major way they do that is through our SOULs.”

More information about welcome events for first-year students is online, Office of New Student Programs.

The 2012 SOULs
Photo: Jeff Sabo

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