Responsible for such initiatives as Freshman Orientation, Creative Audience, the Common Book and First-Year seminars, the Office of First-Year Experience effectively imploded with the departure of longtime director Margo Warden last summer, prompting fears that the programming that has come to define many NVU-Johnson’s freshmen students would wither without Warden’s careful stewardship.
A group of staff and faculty, including Associate Dean of Students Michele Whitmore, Assistant Professor and Co-Chair of the Environmental and Health Sciences Department Emily Tarleton, Professor of Writing and Literature Tyrone Shaw and Technical Director for Dibden Director for the Arts Tim Mikovitz have stepped up to ensure the continuation of first-year programming at NVU-Johnson.
“Margo had an immense role in all of these things,” Shaw said, “so clearly there are adjustments that need to be made, and I believe that are being made. I can’t speak beyond my plans for first- year seminars at this point, but these other pieces will be attended to.”
Shaw will be co-coordinating the first-year seminars, while Tarleton and Mikovitz are taking over the duties of creative audience.
Mikovitz is responsible for the entertainment side of Creative Audience, booking acts and activities that fit the program and integrate into the curriculum, whereas Tarleton is taking over the academic side, ensuring students understand the course goals and requirements, updating students on events and reviewing student submissions.
“I think that the Creative Audience class is an amazing opportunity for students to be exposed to the amazing world of live performance, interesting speakers and masterclasses with individuals with outstanding experience. I have a passion for bringing these types of experiences to the campuses and engaging students with the performances,” Mikovitz said.
Tarleton said she welcomes the chance to be part of Creative Audience, appreciating the diversity of perspectives the program provides.
“I attended a liberal arts institution which had a very similar requirement,” Tarleton said. “I can remember not being overly excited about the requirement, but attending these events really did expose me to new ideas and ways of thinking, as well as some amazingly talented people.
“I also remember the camaraderie,” she said. “Everyone had to do it, so even if my roommate or dormmates were not in any of my classes, this was something we could plan to do together.”
Tarleton acknowledged that because Creative Audience remains virtual, students may not be as enticed to attend them, but she noted there are benefits as well. For example, students can now easily attend Lyndon-based events as well.
The Dean of Students Office will be overseeing orientation as part of the freshman experience and will assist faculty and staff on the Creative Audience and common book as well.
“There’s a lot of excitement in our work in the first-year experience areas,” Whitmore said. “I’m really excited that it is a part of the Dean of Students area, because we often work very closely anyway, so it just feels right to have many parts of the First-Year Experience be a part of [our office] as well.”
“It’s very clear that Margo has certainly left her mark here,” Whitmore added. “As a long standing member of our community, she brought an energy level that certainly is difficult to compete with, and those are big shoes to fill.
“I had the opportunity to work with Margo before she left, and even after she left, she was very much connected with me and helping me along as I learned the ropes of orientation.”
The first-year seminars have been an important part of the freshman experience since their inception 13 years ago and are embedded in the university’s core curriculum as a requirement.
Shaw will serve as coordinator of those seminars beginning in the fall. He began teaching one of them, Dystopia, when the initiative started, and he said he remains committed to it.
“By definition and design, these seminars are interdisciplinary and just fascinating to teach,” Shaw said. I also love working with freshmen, who bring a fresh energy with them. They’re open and receptive.”
Whitmore says first-year experience programming will not be undergoing any radical changes, at least not in the foreseeable future. However, she said this reallocation of responsibilities presents a good opportunity to try something new.
“I certainly want first year experience orientations to live in the Dean of Students office,” Whitmore says, “but I really hope to have a greater collaboration with many departments across campus, because we are a small community, and our students would really benefit from having more involvement from all of our departments.”
For Shaw, keeping the range of programming intact and nurtured is a priority for him and for others in the NVU-Johnson community.
“Margo is an absolute jewel, and her influence, especially for first-year students, has been immense,” he said. “She’s been a force of enlightenment and nurturing and energy.
“They say no one is irreplaceable, but clearly Margo has proven otherwise. That said, her legacy is too good to let die. and it won’t.”