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A Miami moment with ... Buffy Stoll

08/16/2012

Buffy Stoll
"A Miami moment with ... " is a Q-and-A column featuring Miami employees.

Few people know Miami's first-year students better than Elizabeth "Buffy" Stoll. As director of new student programs since 2008, she meets most of them well before classes start, thanks to heading up summer and August orientation, plus Welcome Week, which began last night (Aug. 16).

Originally from Huntington, W.Va., she has a bachelor’s in English/writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College, plus a master’s in higher education administration, as well as in English education, both from New York University. Prior to Miami, she was assistant director of New York University’s Student Resource Center.

Q: Are today’s incoming students’ needs and concerns different from 10, 15 years ago?
A: Yes and no. The world is always changing, which means that the contexts in which new students operate is evolving as well. And effective orientation programs have to start with meeting students where they are.

But their needs – such as developing confidence to direct their own experiences, finding a community where they feel comfortable and challenging themselves to learn – are more consistent. With our expertise in these intrinsic needs, and the awesome job the SOULs do of translating those ideas into a context that is relevant for 18- to 22-year-olds, our program will continue to make a positive impact … no matter how old I get.

Q. What does the term 'SOUL' mean?
A:SOUL is our acronym for Student Orientation Undergraduate Leaders. The program works because our 20 SOULs believe in what they’re doing and because orientation really is student centered. SOULs operate very much as peer educators.

They are supervised by two orientation student coordinators, who are trained and mentored for an entire academic year by our assistant director, Kathy Jicinsky. It’s important to our program that students are front and center because we believe this communicates valuable messages about student engagement at Miami and maximizes leadership opportunities.

Q: What do you look for in a SOUL?
A: We want undergraduates who are authentic and genuinely interested in helping new students in their transition to college. People sometimes think that all orientation leaders have to be outgoing, but that’s not true at all. Our goal is to best represent Miami, and that means we need students with a variety of experiences, perspectives, interests, and personalities. And of course, it’s important that they love Miami – but that’s a quality easy to find.

Q: How do you keep the energy level up?
A: We’re good at remembering that the orientation experience is unique for each student and family member, even if it’s Session 16 for us. We also do high-energy icebreakers at 7 each morning.

Q: How has orientation evolved since you came on board?

A: Kathy and I spent the 2008-2009 academic year pursuing our answer to the question, “What is the point of orientation?” That inquiry prompted the development of the four C’s. We want our program to help new students become more confident, comfortable, connected and curious.

Q: Can you give us a peek behind the scenes?
A: Sure. First, let me say that I think I have the best job in the world. OK, I’d love to be a travel writer and get paid for spending time in Balinese resorts, but until then … .

It really does take the entire university to pull off a program as big and as involved as ours. We depend on the involvement of so many people and departments – the staff members who set up the meeting rooms, those who serve them food in the dining halls, those who arrange their residence hall accommodations, the faculty and staff advisers who help them select and register for classes. My thank-you list at the end of orientation is approaching 400 people.

And all these people, they live out the values of Miami in these interactions. They communicate – sometimes with words, many times without – that we as an institution value the experience of each student, and we are excited about helping them fulfill their potential, that we believe they can succeed.

written by Donna Boen, editor of the Miamian

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