Amelia Turvey steps through the doorway of her dorm room for the first time and examines the small, empty space she will soon be calling home.

Amelia Turvey steps through the doorway of her dorm room for the first time and examines the small, empty space she will soon be calling home.

Her parents follow and together they take it in – the two single beds, the dark single-drawer desks, the large window overlooking green grass and a walkway bustling with other soon-to-be freshmen. The new Cascade Complex is the crown jewel of Southern Oregon University’s dorms, and Turvey’s expression is a combination of apprehension and anticipation.

“Yeah, I’m excited,” she said, “but at the same time I’m nervous about moving away from home. But it’ll be an experience. I guess it has kind of hit, but I think it’ll definitely hit when I go register for classes.”

Turvey, a psychology major and Forest Grove High School graduate, was one of about 150 incoming freshmen who descended on the Southern Oregon University campus Thursday for Raider Orientation and Registration day, the second step in the school’s new four-tier approach to acclimating new students to college life.

In the past, Southern Oregon has kept it simple with a one-day orientation, but this year marks a change in the school’s approach to helping students adjust to college life. Thursday was Raider Orientation and Registration, or ROAR, the second step. It followed a preview day earlier in the summer. Next comes the Week of Welcome, which begins Sept. 25. Finally, SOU offers extended orientation programs.

Jadon Berry, SOU’s coordinator for new student orientation and student success, says ROAR will help prepare freshmen for the college experience.

“There’s a lot of research out there about student engagement — they’re shifting from living at home where they have a certain support structure to coming here maybe for the first time leaving home and their support structure’s thrown all out of whack,” he said. “So it would be really hard to learn how to go from one situation to a totally different living situation and learn everything you need to know in one day. It’s just not feasible. So basically, we’ve started looking at everything we need to teach students during that process. We started from there and said, ok, so there’s certain things that the students need to know.”

The first thing they need to know is where they’re going to live and what classes they’re going to take. It also helps to know who you’re going to be living with. Those are ROAR’s pieces of the pie, and why Thursday was a busy day for about 35 student ambassadors. Sporting Raider red T-shirts, the ambassadors roamed the halls and walkways, pointing nervous-looking teenagers in the right direction and answering any questions they may have. The day also included tours of the campus, a Raider welcome in the Stevenson Union building, a parent and family orientation and, at night, some fun activities designed to encourage socializing — s’mores in the courtyard, music and, hopefully, “conversation.”

For the ambassadors, helping the new students feel comfortable with their new home is the top priority.

“Most people are very excited to come here and kind of be independent and be on their own,” said student ambassador Katie Francisco, an SOU junior who’s majoring in elementary education. “And then there are the people that you can kind of see the fear in their eyes a little bit, like ‘Oh my gosh, this is really scary; I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I don’t know anybody.’ But that’s kind of what ROAR is all about, getting people to mingle and meet other people.”

For some students that comes naturally, but others need a gentle push. Most have a few common anxieties, however, and part of ROAR’s agenda is to break those down.

“The reason I chose SOU was because I love the campus so much in comparison to other schools,” said Ashley Dippel, a Crater High graduate who’s planning on double-majoring in English and Spanish for a career as a 6th-through-12th-grade teacher. “I think the campus here is beautiful, so I like everything and I really like the cafeteria. I’m really scared about gaining the freshman 15 (pounds). Hopefully I’ll see the gym more than the cafeteria.”

For now, Berry just wants them to see it all and begin to get excited about the possibilities. Later, he said, the school will hold a first-time event aimed at plugging new students into the community. SOU Loves Ashland will debut in the fall and feature, Berry hopes, live music in the bandshell followed by an introduction to local businesses.

The philosophy mirrors that of ROAR: the more attached students feel to the community, the more likely they are to achieve their goals there.

“We’re a community here and part of the deal is we want students to work with each other and be accountable to participate in the community,” he said. “That’s where a lot of learning that doesn’t happen in the classroom happens. The whole idea of a liberal arts education is broad and creating good skills around effective citizenship and things like that. In academics they address that very carefully, and we’re also trying to make it more intentional through all the programming that happens outside of the classrooms.”