Note to relatives, guests: please hug, and then go


Passage: Throughout the nation, colleges - and families - prepare for the emotionally fraught freshman ritual of saying goodbye.

August 25, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IT IS A TIME of losing children to adulthood.

Again this Friday and Saturday, they'll line up on University Parkway and Charles Street: cars and SUVs jam-packed with tons of back-to-school paraphernalia, 1,155 excited Johns Hopkins University freshmen, their bored siblings and anxious parents in the throes of letting go.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, 3,500 freshmen will begin arriving Thursday. It's a rite of passage that's heavily scripted at colleges and universities, which these days welcome new students with a helping hand, fun and games and a gentle tug away from Mom and Dad.

Used to be you just showed up. If your parents came with you, Dad carried your typewriter in, and you hugged Mom and said you'd see her at Christmas. I arrived at Columbia University in New York by subway, having been kissed goodbye three days earlier at a Northern Pacific train depot in Montana. I was greeted at a registration table and handed a key to a dorm room with a cot, a sink, one electrical outlet and no telephone.

Times have changed.

Many colleges and universities now hold midsummer two- and three-day orientation sessions for freshmen. "This way they get a sense of the campus, and they're pumped up for the fall term," says Jan Davidson, acting director of resident life at College Park.

McDaniel College in Westminster and Hopkins are among many schools where volunteer upperclassmen do the heavy hauling on move-in day. "None of our parents lifts a box," says Joyce Muller, McDaniel's associate vice president for communications and marketing. Having others do the lifting frees parents' arms for last-minute hugs.

New students on all campuses are thrown into a weekend of parties and sports activities. "It's a way to break the ice," says Davidson. It's also a way to help freshmen forget the social lives (especially boyfriends and girlfriends) they're leaving behind.

Although colleges are still doubling and tripling students in dormitory rooms, they've made dorm life comfortable and up to date. College Park's rooms are wired for computers and cable television. A secure Web site allows freshmen to meet roommates and scan the floor plans of their dormitories.

Administrators and faculty members make it a point to mingle on move-in day. At Hopkins, William R. Brody, the president, and his wife, Wendy, roll through the crowd of newcomers on in-line skates.

The actual parting is handled with a sophistication never dreamed of 40 years ago. It's tricky: You've got only a few hours to break the ties, says Davidson, and parting is especially sweet sorrow for parents who are going to be empty-nesters.

In a delightful new book, She's Leaving Home: Letting Go as My Daughter Goes to College, Virginia community college teacher Connie Jones writes of the "sorrow" of "losing" her daughter Cary to a college in New England. A few days after Cary's departure, Jones burst into tears in a supermarket when it dawned on her that she didn't have to buy pita bread and humus for her vegetarian daughter.

College Park waits until freshmen are moved in and their computers hooked up, then holds a midafternoon "family welcome" in an air-conditioned dining room. McDaniel entertains siblings, informally discussing how life at home will be different without an older brother or sister.

The McDaniel program for move-in day concludes with this:

"Family and guests are asked to hug - and go."

Proprietary attitude toward jettisoned name

McDaniel, of course, used to be Western Maryland College, a name it jettisoned because people thought it was a public college in the western part of the state, not a private school in a Baltimore suburb.

But what if another school wanted to take the name? There was a rumor this month that Frostburg State, which really is in western Maryland, wanted to appropriate Western Maryland. A Sun reporter found the rumor to be false. Just in case, though, McDaniel has copyrighted its former name.

Online, in-person teaching compared in study

Maybe face-to-face teaching isn't what it's cracked up to be. A new research study shows that graduates of a distance-learning master's degree program do a better job teaching than graduates of traditional on-campus education schools.

The study compared graduates of a distance-learning program at Marygrove College in Detroit with their teaching colleagues, in 24 New Jersey schools, who had earned master's degrees in traditional programs.

One caution: The study was commissioned by Baltimore-based Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., a leader in online education.

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