There has always been a large focus on getting students situated at Northwestern with an amazing Wildcat Welcome by the Office of New Students and Family Programs. After freshman settled in, their job was done. This year, however, they went for a new philosophy, with a program called IGNITE.
The basic idea behind IGNITE was to take freshman from across schools and put them in a new Peer Adviser-like group together. Then, you force them to attend meetings where you talk about issues that freshman have during the first year and the instructors try to help you get through these issues.
I was a part of the IGNITE program, and the fact that it was mandatory made me dislike it from the start. Show up to the three or four meetings a quarter or have your registration held, as if registration wasn’t stressful enough. Making time for hour and a half long sessions isn’t always easy, and it showed when some students in my group had to be late, and some couldn’t show up to one of the meetings.
The next major issue I noticed after we started was content. While it is true that most of us could benefit from talking with other students from different schools, and from having staff members and peer advisers as resources, the meetings were rigidly structured and didn’t leave much room for what the group might have wanted to talk about. Instead of these rigidly structured sessions, there could have been dialogue about whatever students needed at the time. In general, I believe a free flowing-conversation serves as a better resource to students then activities that take up the whole meeting.
Having been in the program, I don’t feel like I got much out of it. While the students in my group were great, and my instructors helped as much as possible within the limitations of the program, there was no saving a doomed program. Maybe I could have talked to my instructor about managing my time better, something that everyone at Northwestern could probably learn. Maybe I could have actually learned some information about the people in my group, beyond what they thought a successful freshman’s facebook profile would look like at the end of the year (an actual activity of the program).
IGNITE was supposed to introduce me to students across schools, but I already knew two of my group, and I only got to know two more of my group well. Even those two I know more about from outside of IGNITE than I do from in it. Both of the stated goals – bringing students together and helping answer questions that freshman might have – failed. In the end, it felt more like a meeting with a high school guidance counselor telling you what career you should have than getting to know more about my fellow classmates and Northwestern itself. If IGNITE is going to continue, then it needs to majorly revamp itself.
In contrast to IGNITE, a program that succeeds in bringing together students, faculty and even alumni is Dinner with 12 Strangers, which regularly fills up in a matter of days, with hundreds of students signing up for a spot. The attractiveness of the program is clear; it’s optional, it involves free food, and you get to meet new people. This is why IGNITE should take a play out of Dinner with 12 Strangers’ book.
I enjoyed the group that I was in. There may have been some seemingly pointless activities, but the people themselves made for great company when one of our instructors took us to dinner. That’s why instead of a mandatory session of icebreakers, a better plan would be to have groups that would get together a few times a quarter, with free food paid for with the same money that would have went towards outings into Chicago. Discussion could flow freely from what students need help with one minute, to just getting to know each other the next.
This setup would be much more effective in both achieving the desired results, and in getting students to join. Given the time, many students would jump at the chance for great free food and meeting other students with completely different lives than their own. Maybe next year instead of stressing freshman out, there can be a program that freshman will actually find beneficial, but IGNITE in its current form is definitely not that program.