Student orientation leaders.
A group of student orientation leaders, 1993.

Tales from the Archives: New Student Orientation

This month, St. Thomas community members may have met groups of incoming first-year students and their parents visiting campus for orientation and registration. This one-day event is the latest version of a program to introduce first-year students to the academic workings and social life of St. Thomas.

College of St. Thomas and College of St. Catherine first-year students enjoying the Freshman Week picnic, 1958.

Through the mid-1960s, many of today’s orientation activities were integrated into Freshman Week. While completing course schedules and orienting new students to campus buildings were a part of the itinerary, social activities introducing students to what it meant to be a Tommie were also emphasized. New students wearing their required freshmen beanies were often shuttled to picnics and dances with their counterparts at the College of St. Catherine.

In the early 1970s, orientation was revamped into a three-day intensive introduction to college life. Held on the three days immediately prior to fall semester classes, first-year students were required to attend a regimented series of events including assemblies addressing issues related to how to be successful in college, meetings with faculty advisers, and tours of campus.

By the mid-1980s, the orientation sessions evolved to include information fairs to introduce incoming students to the variety of services and activities available to them on campus. Enthusiastic student orientation leaders called Tom Buddies helped shepherd new students through the jam-packed days and led games and other activities aimed at strengthening community feeling.

Group photo of orientation leaders in front of Aquinas Hall on June 26, 2023, in St. Paul. (Brandon Woller '17/University of St. Thomas)

Starting in 1991, student orientation shifted to a two-day event held in July and early August. While staff and faculty helped students through the advising and registration process, student orientation leaders led the incoming students in discussions related to campus life issues including getting along with roommates and drug or alcohol abuse. Social events like picnics, movies and dances were held to allow the new students to get to know one another.

In 2009, summer orientation and registration were once again revamped to a series of one-day sessions held each July. Many of the social events and community-building activities once featured in past orientations became components of Welcome Week.