Rowan spares no expense to make students feel at home

Rowan spares no expense to make students feel at home

By KIM MULFORD Courier-Post Staff

GLASSBORO--On her first day at Rowan University, 18-year-old Heather Chambers fell in love with campus life.

After settling into her dorm room Thursday, Chambers and her roommate, Katie Keeley, drifted to the Student Center at 9 p.m. for what the school billed as "The Premiere Event."

It was among dozens of student activities the school has planned for the first month of classes. Rowan will spend more than $300,000 this year on campus events, $100,000 of it in September alone.

The money will be used for concerts, trips, goofy bonding rituals and more - all to keep students like Chambers and Keeley happy, enrolled and sober.

Rowan's strategy seemed to work on the two, who followed a stream of other freshmen attracted by a laser light show. They stood in line for nearly two hours to get a free psychic reading, watched a mind reader work the crowd, listened to a live band and chowed down.

"It was neat," said Chambers, a business major from Quinton, Salem County. "Everybody was going. We went with a couple girls from our hall. It just seemed like it would be fun."

Chambers has already signed up for a trip to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, and she plans to get involved with whatever else looks interesting.

"If you're just sitting around your room and don't have anything to do, you'd want to go home," she said. "I definitely think the activities would encourage people (to socialize)."

Rowan, like other universities, places a lot of importance on student activities. Rutgers-Camden spends $350,000 to $400,000 a year to improve the quality of life for its roughly 5,000 students, school officials said.

This semester, Rutgers students will visit the Aquarium, take in a concert at the Tweeter Center, visit the battleship New Jersey and see the Camden Riversharks on the Waterfront.

Schools set aside money to get students to bond to each other and to their campus, said Cal Maradonna, associate provost for student affairs. It lets students make friends with new and different people.

"It mixes up the pot and (students) expand their horizons," Maradonna said.

For the third year in a row, Rowan has given its residential and campus life office $300,000 to play with, mostly collected from student fees. The office works closely with the student-run Student Activities Board, which has its own budget of $160,000 to $180,000.

A core group of about 75 students decides how to spend the majority of the money, choosing popular acts, such as comedian Dave Chappelle, live bands, trips to Broadway shows and more, and fads like a rock-wall climb. They even preview bands and acts earlier in the year to make sure other students will like them.

Drew Calandrella, vice president for student affairs, said he believes activities like these encourage students to bond to the school. There are plenty of studies to prove it, he said. If students aren't assimilated within the first month of school, he said, they spend the rest of their time trying to figure out how to leave.

"My goal is to graduate every single student that we admit," Calandrella said. "The only way to do that is retain them."

Right now, about 59 percent of Rowan's freshmen graduate within six years, above the national average of about 50 percent.

Although open to commuters, the activities also are a persuasive way to get students to live on campus. Nearly 40 percent of Rowan's students live on campus. The school's goal is to become a residential campus, with 65 percent to 70 percent living there. Already, this year's freshmen are triple-bunked, and the school has plans to build more dorms.

George Brelsford, assistant vice president of residential and campus life, calls the activities budget "a good investment."

He already has some proof. Last week, 400 freshmen packed buses for a school-subsidized trip to Wildwood, 25 went to Camden to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, 1,400 people ate a barbecue buffet and close to 500 students went to the "Premiere Event," which didn't wrap up until well after 1:30 in the morning.

"It went exceptionally well," said Brelsford. Just what the university had hoped for.

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Date Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 - 11:18
Source URL: Courier-Post