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SOARing at Memorial

High school-university transitioning program taking place this summer

Student Life

By Laura Barron

For two days in July on the St. John’s campus, incoming students will have the opportunity to “preview” what their university experience may look and feel like.

Students participating in welcome events on the St. John’s campus in 2016.
Students participating in welcome events on the St. John’s campus in 2016.
Photo: Ritche Perez

New students are invited meet other incoming students, stay overnight in residence, take a tour of campus, meet faculty and staff, and participate in leadership development and community engagement.


Summer Orientation for Academic Readiness (SOAR) is a series of two-day sessions designed to help new students experience campus in smaller groups than those included in the larger Welcome Week in September and to help them prepare for their transition into life at the university.

Dr. Jennifer Massey, director, Student Life, says the program was developed for students who are eager to make the best of their undergraduate experience.

Dr. Jennifer Massey, director, Student Life
Dr. Jennifer Massey, director, Student Life
Photo: Chris Hammond

“They are excited for university, are hopeful about their future, and they recognize that this is an important journey for them and they want to make sure they’re fully equipped to take that journey,” said Dr. Massey.

Julia Halfyard, new student experience co-ordinator, Student Life, says SOAR will help new students feel more self-assured for their arrival in the fall. She says the students who come to SOAR are excited for the next chapter of their life leaving high school.

“They may be very keen and looking to maximize their potential at university,” said Ms. Halfyard.

“They may also be looking to engage with other students and to have fun. This program will help students gain confidence and a feeling of ease. They will be introduced to an unfamiliar life on campus and, by the end of the two days, they will be familiarized enough that, when they come in September, they will feel confident.”

Whole new world

New students often feel stressed about their first semester at university.

SOAR aims to help new students feel more comfortable with their new surroundings and the new roles and responsibilities that come along with university life. Dr. Massey says the Student Life team wants to ease the anxiety that usually comes with the transition.

“Even our very best students experience apprehension two or three weeks before the academic year begins,” she said. “They may not feel these worries right now, but closer to the time they might, so participating in SOAR will help ease those concerns.”

Dr. Massey and Ms. Halfyard say some students will come to Memorial with a clear understanding of their academic path, while others will have questions.

Move in day last year, with Shiwak and Cluny halls in the background.
Photo: Ritche Perez

In both cases, there will be programs and experiences included in SOAR to help them make the most of their time at Memorial. The schedule is available here.

“There are a lot of exciting moments during the day, and there is a leadership session on the first night,” said Dr. Massey. “There will also be a lot of opportunities to meet current students, and students involved in clubs and societies at the pizza party on the first night. This will give new students an idea of the social and community-oriented activities available here at Memorial.”

Dr. Sutherland, dean, School of Music, is facilitating the leadership workshop, which will allow for students’ involvement in a hands-on leadership development experience.

“The workshop I’ll be doing brings together developing leaders, a musical flashmob and an evening of hand waving like no other.” — Dr. Ian Sutherland

He says he is delighted to have the opportunity to work across the various faculty- and school-specific SOAR sessions.

“I’ve spent a good part of my career in leadership development — I know, a bit weird for a musician/music dean — working with individuals, students and organizations, including major corporations in more than 40 countries,” Dr. Sutherland said.

Dr. Ian Sutherland
Dr. Ian Sutherland
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“My absolute favourite workshop, the one I’ll be doing with all SOAR participants, brings together developing leaders, a musical flashmob and an evening of hand waving like no other. I’m trying to not give away the details, but it’s a leadership development workshop with incredible energy and major impact.”

Dr. Sutherland’s workshop will be for all SOAR participants; he will also offer a specific set of sessions for new students in the School of Music.

“I’m thrilled the School of Music is helping to pilot this program. We’ve got a fun-filled program of music-making, composing and interactive talks lined up,” he said.

“It will be a great introduction to the vibrancy of being a music student here at Memorial. It’s a fantastic way for us to create — even before they start their studies — meaningful, engaged connections with our incoming students.”

Some scenes from Welcome Week 2016 on the St. John’s campus.
Photo: Ritche Perez

Dr. Massey’s plans for SOAR are rooted in research about student success. She says significant research shows that a pre-orientation program positively impacts student success.

“Students who become engaged in university life at an early stage are disproportionately more likely to stay at the university and graduate. SOAR is an exciting and important first step in a student’s academic journey.”

Ms. Halfyard shares her hopes for participants.

“I think SOAR is a really beautiful bridge that high school students can use to cross over into their university life. It’s a wonderful transition program and it will certainly ease any worry or stress and I really can’t wait to welcome them to Memorial.”

Five opportunities to SOAR

  • Music students: July 6-7
  • Business students: July 6-7
  • Science students: July 13-14
  • All programs: July 17-18
  • Engineering students: July 20-21

More information and registration can be found here. SOAR is supported by Workplace N.L. and Husky Energy.

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