It wasn’t optional.
A voice from the speakers echoed across the field insisting the newest Gamecocks participate in the chants, a group picture, slipping their bright red freshman T-shirts on in the stadium.
The event, Freshman Convocation, is developing rite of passage for JSU students. JSU officials hope the experience ultimately serves as an initial hook that will encourage the freshmen to stick around until they graduate.
Those freshmen, and thousands of returning students, begin class today.
“The hope is that they start in there and that they finish in there,” Andy Green, director of enrollment management said. “Just like we have a graduation ceremony in the end, we have this in the beginning.”
Historically, JSU has struggled to maintain a healthy graduation rate. In 2003, the last year for which the university has retention data, 30 percent of students who began their education at JSU went on to graduate there. That same year, just 68 percent of the freshman class returned after the first year.
Since then, the university has implemented several retention strategies, convocation among them. Get on Board Day, which followed the convocation, is aimed at engaging students in campus life, said Timothy King, associate vice president for enrollment management and student affairs.
“The primary purpose is to get students engaged and connected to the campus,” King said.
Some said they were nervous in their new environment and stayed close people they’ve known, from their hometowns, from their dorms. Others said JSU really lived up to its slogan that states it is “the friendliest campus in the south.” One said he thought he’d remember the chants throughout his college career at JSU.
Upperclassmen who manned tables for campus clubs after the event for Get on Board Day, said freshman convocation was one of their first college memories. One of them, senior Samantha Gacasan, said she was nervous sitting in the stands that day, four years ago.
Hers was one of the first freshman convocations to be held at JSU, since the university began its most recent retention campaign. She said her nerves subsided, somehow, while singing the football chants.
If her experience is any indication, JSU’s effort to engage the new student’s is working.
“Once they got us all together, it kind of formed us all as one and made us feel like we were part of JSU,” Gacasan said.
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.