Reliving the First-Year Experience — Lessons from a former WUSA

“We’ve got to run if we want to catch the metro!” I shouted as our whole group began sprinting from the Clock Tower to the Big Bend Metro Link stop, with only minutes to catch the eastbound train. Somehow, we made it with seconds to spare and boarded the train to City Museum, arriving just in time to meet our faculty associate, Professor Jeff McCune. What started off as a near-catastrophe quickly turned into an amazing day at City Museum filled with crazy tunnels, a ten-story slide, and a giant hamster wheel. Spending that afternoon with my WUSA floor filled me with excitement and made me truly appreciate the power of the Washington University first-year experience.

The Washington University Student Associates (WUSA) program began in 2009 as a means of uniting two previously distinct roles: Orientation Assistants that helped run new student orientation, known as Bear Beginnings, and Peer Advisers that shared academic information with first-year students from the College of Arts and Sciences. The role has since grown into one of the most recognizable positions on Wash U’s campus; virtually every member of the community interacts at least once with a WUSA, whether it’s a simple hello during Bear Beginnings or a day-long adventure downtown mid-semester.

I, like many other new students, arrived at Wash U ready for the start of my college experience but anxious about the transition. I was aware of the challenges ahead but knew little about how to tackle them. From the moment I arrived, however, anxiety quickly became excitement and energy, all fueled by WUSAs.

My WUSAs were there from the beginning – from introducing me to the world of Mario Kart to helping me decide where to live and who to live with. They took me to visit the city, showed me the best food, gave me study tips prior to tough exams, and were always there afterwards to help de-stress. Armed with cake mix and knowledge of all the resources Wash U has to offer, my WUSAs facilitated a smooth transition to college life. I quickly realized I wanted to have the same impact on the incoming first year class, and rushed to apply for the position quickly after the application opened.


My WUSA team and me, after completing our week-long August training

Not all of it was easy, least of all the 10-day organized chaos of WUSA training and Bear Beginnings. Working from 7am to 11pm essentially every day directing families and staffing events, I helped execute Wash U’s welcome to the Class of 2019. Despite being a grueling and mind-numbing amount of work, each interaction with an anxious student or a positively terrified parent carried me through. And during the final floor meeting before the start of classes, I saw how much of an impact we really made – 48 students that were once complete strangers now were inseparably chatty and had all the makings of a great community ready for the year to come.

In a way, I gained more from the first-year experience the second time around. No longer was I an anxious first-year student walking through the glow-stick path on convocation night unsure where I was headed. Instead, I was actively shaping the path one glow-stick at a time, empowering the next first-year class to carry on the WUSA tradition of helping each individual find their home at Wash U. My home, the WUSA league, will charge on with the Class of 2020, and I’m excited to see where the next group of WUSAs will take it.