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The Freshman Experience by Nancy Kolsti
Fall 2002      

story extras
Meet the freshmen

Nick Arbolino

Rebecca Johnson

Heidi Jones

Sandra Lorden

Karina Montoya

other features

Change of Leadership

High Fashion, High Art

The Freshman Experience

Life on the Sidelines


They arrived at UNT on a sweltering summer day, excited to begin their freshman year.

But Nick Arbolino, Rebecca Johnson, Heidi Jones, Sandra Lorden and Karina Montoya still had their worries. They didn’t know which classes to take or how many. They didn’t know how they would find enough time to study, get involved in campus activities, make friends and do their laundry. They were concerned about fitting in at a large university, having enough money to pay for school, and being smart enough or talented enough to succeed.

By the end of the year, many of those worries had evaporated. Now they’re pros at registering for classes, meeting strangers and sorting blue jeans from whites, and they’ve learned more about how to balance studying with working and having fun.

They made it through their freshman year. And they’re ready to share their experiences with North Texan readers.

Rebecca (right) made friends quickly, enjoying a party at the Union during Freshman Orientation.

Ready to begin

For most of UNT’s 2001 freshmen, the year began in July with three fast-paced days of orientation. The agenda included registering for fall semester classes, taking placement tests, learning about student organizations and touring the campus.

Rebecca, an Azle High School graduate who says the welcoming atmosphere attracted her to UNT, couldn’t wait to start the academic year.

“I was looking forward to being a freshman all over again,” she remembers.

Sandra, however, didn’t want to look like a freshman to others. A year older than many students in her orientation session, she had spent a year in the Army National Guard after graduating from a Boston-area high school. She decided to go to college after she was discharged for medical reasons and chose UNT to be closer to her family in Fort Worth.

She didn’t want to stick out as a new student.

“I wanted to know where my classes were without having to look them up in the course schedule. I wanted to get into a routine,” she says.

Strangers can be friends

In late August, Rebecca and Sandra were among about 3,800 freshmen moving into campus residence halls. Most of the new students went “potluck,” allowing their roommates to be randomly selected and generating some stress at the thought of living with strangers. But they weren’t strangers for long.

Rebecca’s roommate in Kerr Hall became her study partner and closest friend at UNT — they planned to live there together again this fall.

“She helped me keep on track, and when she got off track, I helped her get motivated to study,” Rebecca says. “Our parents said we spent too much time together. We even called each other when I was home on weekends. It’s very interesting how I hoped for the best with a potluck roommate, and I got the best.”

Nick wasn’t so lucky.

The Plano music major’s fall semester was complicated with the stress of changing rooms only one month into the year because his first roommate wanted to live with a high school friend.

But Nick’s second roommate was “cool,” he says, and he liked him at once. He also liked Bruce Hall, enjoying the Halloween Haunted House and other hall events. During the spring semester, he became a hall association representative and made plans to stay in Bruce with his roommate for his sophomore year.

“I’m happy here and would not go anywhere else. I’ve had a blast,” he says.

Karina stayed busy throughout the year. Her favorite class was Stress Reduction Through Movement.

It’s not like high school

For most of the freshmen, studying for college courses proved to be a bigger challenge than living with roommates.

“You don’t have the same classes every day, so sometimes you have to think, ‘Tomorrow’s Friday — what classes do I have then and what do I need to read for them?’” Sandra says. “Teachers follow class syllabi regardless of whether you’re behind or not."

Karina, a graduate of Oak Ridge High School in Spring who came to UNT with an almost perfect grade point average, says classes required more outside work than she expected.

“In high school, I had a lot of homework, but my teachers addressed every topic in class,” she says. “Here I’m having to do three times the reading I did there.”

Music majors Nick and Heidi had the added responsibility of balancing studying with practicing.

Nick, a music performance/oboe major, thought he was up to the challenge, but he quickly learned his last year in high school didn’t prepare him for studying “massive amounts of information” in college.

He often skimped on sleep in order to fit everything in.

“I hit the books after dinner,” he says. “I did all my academic work first and then I’d know how long I needed to practice. Sometimes it was two hours, sometimes four, sometimes eight. But it was worth it.”

Heidi, a National Merit Scholarship winner from Jourdanton High School and a student in the UNT Honors Program, started the year with a double major in music performance/clarinet and chemistry. She tried to study three to four hours every day and practice at least 10 hours a week.

“I’m such a nerd now,” she says. “I’ve made a permanent home in the practice rooms.”

Music major Heidi took a break now and then from studying and practicing the clarinet.

Things change

During the fall semester, Heidi realized a double major was too much. She wasn’t convinced she could maintain her grade point average and keep her scholarship for four years.

Before registering for spring semester classes, she switched her chemistry major to a minor and changed her performance major to focus on music education.

Karina also changed majors, switching from accounting to interdisciplinary studies so she could become an elementary school teacher. But her spring schedule was already set, and by the middle of the semester she wished she had chosen different courses.

“Fall semester, only history was challenging. Spring semester, everything except Stress Reduction was challenging. I was struggling a bit,” she says.

The changes in the students’ lives didn’t just involve academics.

When Karina came to North Texas, she had intended to keep her relationship going with her boyfriend, a student at Montgomery County Community College near her home. And Rebecca chose UNT in part to stay close to her boyfriend, a Tarrant County College student.

At orientation, Rebecca was warned by other students that romances between incoming freshmen and their high school sweethearts are usually over by Thanksgiving.

She broke up with her boyfriend before starting the semester. A month later, she was dating again.

“I consider myself very outgoing, and I get energized from meeting new people,” she says.

Karina, too busy to visit home often, broke off her long-distance relationship in November.

“I just want to be single right now,” she says. “It’s so easy to meet new people because everyone is so friendly.”

Plans go awry

It was an unexpected event in the middle of the fall semester that brought changes for Sandra. She wrecked her car.

Although she wasn’t hurt, she needed transportation to be able to work off campus. So, she moved back to her parents’ home in Fort Worth to share a car with her father.

She wasn’t upset about leaving Clark Hall.

“I liked living there, but I don’t mind living at home, either. My parents know I am independent and won’t control when I should be home,” she says.

She soon discovered living at home posed other problems. “Commuting really changed my plans for my class schedule. When I lived on campus, I could get up at 10:30 a.m. for an 11 a.m. class, but now I have to decide when I want to start driving and when I want to get home,” she says.

In addition, Sandra missed some classes due to the car-sharing arrangement.

“One Friday, my dad took the car before he realized I had to leave for school, so I had to miss,” she says. “People who live on campus don’t miss class with the excuse of car problems.”

Working off campus and commuting cut into Sandra’s plans to be involved in campus activities. When school started, she wanted to join the German Club, but meetings were on Wednesday evenings when she was usually working.

“It seemed like a burden to ask for certain days off at work,” she says.

After she moved back home, she began working at a Fort Worth restaurant and thought she could become more involved on campus because she worked mostly on weekends. But that continued to be difficult.

Even though she still talked to her former roommate at Clark Hall, who urged her to attend basketball games and other events, Sandra kept forgetting when they were scheduled.

There’s life outside of class

For the other students, becoming involved in campus life was easier.

Karina joined student organizations her first week at UNT. During the fall semester, she attended weekly meetings of Axcess, part of the national Christian organization College Life.

In the spring, she also attended a women’s group through College Life, went on College Life retreats and found an outlet for her love of dance through a dance ministry. Over Spring Break she helped build a Habitat for Humanity house in Mississippi.

Rebecca played intramural softball for Kerr Hall and became the only female freshman selected for Student Judicial Board, a group of residence hall students who hear cases about student behavioral concerns. She also spent time with friends at the mall, hung out at clubs and attended football and basketball games.

Music majors Heidi and Nick performed in campus ensembles and attended campus concerts. Heidi played in the Concert Band and Nick played in the Symphony Orchestra and the Symphonic Band and was selected to the Chamber Orchestra, which accompanied UNT’s production of Don Giovanni.

What else they learned

At the close of the freshman year, Nick knew he had definitely improved as a musician.

“Not very many freshmen were chosen for the Chamber Orchestra. The opera and orchestra conductors placed a lot of faith in me,” he says.

His only regret was taking more than 16 academic hours spring semester and having less time to practice.

“I wanted to see if I could handle it, but it was very stressful,” he says.

Spring was also stressful for Rebecca, who said procrastination was a problem for her.

“I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day. I thought I had adjusted to college enough. But I hadn’t,” she says. “It has definitely been what everyone told me it would be — a whole new experience.”

The other students agree.

“I have a more diverse group of friends than I had in high school,” Karina says. “When you’re in a dorm, you have to live with someone, and people are around all the time. You have to be open to others’ ideas even if they’re different from your own.”

She also says she’s grown spiritually and has matured “because I’ve had to do stuff for myself, like laundry.”

Heidi isn’t sure if she’s more mature.

“I’ve really just found a new support network,” she says. “But I think college is actually doable now. I can walk across campus without getting tired. I can remember to turn things in at a certain time. And hopefully, I’m becoming a better musician.”

Sandra says she’s realized that college is a choice. Despite freshman year not going exactly as she planned, she is glad she enrolled at UNT.

“I’ve had a lot of fun with my classes, and I kind of don’t want to ever leave,” she says.

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