From AOP Toward Alumni; One Spartan’s Journey
By Shannia Sumugat
I entered the crowded room and scanned it carefully. Just as I feared, I didn’t know anybody. Not a single person in this massive room is familiar to me. For a split second, I considered hopping back in the car and heading straight towards home. Realizing that option is unlikely to end in any positive result, I took a deep breath and walked forward to check in.
“It’s under Shannia Sumugat. Thank you.”
I watched the volunteer’s eyes go down the list. As she did, I refused to take mine off of her knowing that, if I remind myself of these surroundings, I’ll be fully motivated to run out of the building. ‘Terrified’ doesn’t describe the sensations I was experiencing.
“Here’s your key and room number. Oh, don’t forget your packet.”
I held a blank gaze on her hand and monotonously reached forward for the large white envelope she offered forward. This would be rough, and I knew it.
The series of presentations and tours with complete strangers attempted to provide a crash course in all-things MSU, but I was just counting down the hours until everything was over. Before going to bed that night, I literally prayed that the second day would go by with less of a painful droll. The sinking feeling in my stomach screamed at my worst fears: I’m not ready for this big of a change.
That was three summers ago in 2008, the first day of Academic Orientation Program (AOP) here at State. Designed to provide acclamation, scheduling, and a meet ‘n greet opportunity for incoming freshman – it was more of a blurry nightmare than a freeing sensation of independence upon the first step of the college experience. My fear nearly deterred me from following through with my longstanding college plans (and it certainly interfered with learning some of those important tour facts!).
I can say now that, with a bit more confidence and far less fear, so much has changed. Having such a wretched AOP experience taught me two things: I can give in to the fear and fail, or I can learn from the new opportunities and build on the person that I am. It was a conscious decision shortly after AOP (yes, I did return) to make the most of these opportunities I have. When I found myself back in AOP, I handled myself with complete reform; this time, I’m not that incoming freshman, I’m on the end of the volunteer’s perspective.
My first day as a volunteer began, but this time it was their anxious faces I was watching. I couldn’t help but feel for each one of them – I knew what it was like walking into this room. They were all trying to take in everything all at once and it was so clearly overwhelming for them.
There was one young lady, however, that made a huge impression on me. Sam, an up-beat, bright-eyed freshman, was so open and outgoing from the very start, and she distinguished herself quite quickly from the rest of the bunch. If you’ve ever met someone with an open curiosity and a fresh confidence, then you’ve met someone life Sam. Our introduction consisted of her walking right up to me, handing me an envelope, and saying with a big grin, “I read about the freshmen internships SAF is offering so I decided to apply. Here’s my application!”
This was a surprise, most just fill out the necessary forms online. I decided to throw a few SAF-based questions at her and discover how much she really knows about the organization. As she handled each question with a relaxed (and informed!) response, I smiled and thought, “This girl did her homework and she hasn’t even started college yet.”
I wasn’t volunteering to intimidate these kids nor interrogate them about what they should know before applying to student positions. I was there to be a mentor, and I couldn’t end my list of questions without asking her if she had any. The opportunity to make an incoming Spartan feel comfortable during this massive transition is more than a resume booster, it’s a privilege. I found myself sharing the advice my conversations with alumni has provided.
“College is going to go by really fast, so take a look around you right now and appreciate every single moment you have here… Don’t take life too seriously… be open to changes because life isn’t on the same path your plans are… There are so many resources available for help when you need it…”
I’ve been keeping in touch with Sam – I regularly e-mail her to ensure that her transition into college is as smooth as possible. Part of me wishes I could do that for every incoming freshman and provide the solace that so many are looking for, just as I was. I’m reminded of how many fellow Spartans and alums have helped me get to this point. As I’m entering a new transition, I’m finding myself unsure again, but this time it is on life outside of the college bubble.
Learning from past mistakes, I’ve started to reach out for help, asking questions to seek reassurance. Just as Sam came forward and put her fears and questions confidently on the table, I have started to do the same with alumni and mentors. Being on both sides of the experience – both newbie and volunteer – I now know how great it feels to answer those questions; knowing that my words are helping to put someone more at ease in an uncomfortable situation. At the end of the day, we can all take a lesson from my past mistakes and Sam’s incredible approach to new, potentially terrifying situations.
Soon enough, I’ll be in the alumni position I now seek council from, just as I eventually became a volunteer at AOP. I hope that I can help a new grad find the council they seek through a continuation of alumni involvement with the university. Spartans have a built in network of camaraderie and we all share the same passion for the Green and White. We all need to appreciate the privilege it is to be a part of it. Whether or not we choose to utilize this invaluable resource, however, is up to us.
After three years here at State, and through a passageway into a new perspective, I realized that the best way to give back to this university is to help another Spartan. We’re all going to struggle and we all have learned our own personal set of unique lessons. Don’t keep those quiet, and don’t wait for a formal opportunity to share find you. Look for the chances to spread your knowledge.
We don’t often know what our words are capable of or who may find them valuable. But hey, if they keep a kid from running out on AOP, or calm a nervous grad who is feeling inadequate in the job market, I believe they can exceed any of our own estimates of their infinite value to another.
Shannia Sumugat is from Chicago, but has found out she likes Michigan more than she thought she would. She is entering into her Senior year as a Communications major at MSU. She has recently accepted a “Sports Communication” internship for an awesome company in Michigan. She previously served as one of the Executive Council Members for the Student Alumni Foundation and was the Communications Assistant this summer for MSU Alumni Career Services.