UNI Now! and Welcome Week: Back and better than ever

The incoming class of 2025 gathers for a group photo in the McLeod Center during UNI Now! and Panther Kick off. Although the group photos of freshman are typically taken in the UNI-Dome, the McLeod Center offered better social distancing.

LAUREN MCGUILL

UNI’s new orientation coordinator Joellen Hatchett started in January of 2021 and was determined to make this year an amazing start for students by going all out with Welcome Week and UNI Now! events.

Hatchett wanted this year to be extra special for both new and returning students as many of them missed out on many fun college opportunities due to COVID-19. Hatchett not only included traditional events, but many new ones as well. 

On freshman move-in day, students were invited to go to an event called Panther Big Top. Panther Big Top was a carnival for UNI students that had fun food, games and activities that provided a great chance for students to make friends and get acquainted with campus. 

Panther Big Top also had bumper cars, bounce houses, bingo, tie-dying t-shirts and airbrush tattoos. Students could also participate in  an “Adopt a Panther Station” where first year students could pick out a panther and stuff it along with giving the plush panther a birth certificate. Students then had the opportunity to go to the UNI-Dome to watch a movie. The first 400 students to arrive received UNI blankets, which, according to Hatchett, was a big hit. 

Panther Kick Off is a staple of starting the new school year. This year’s Panther Kick Off was hosted in the McLeod Center instead of the usual UNI-Dome. First year students took the traditional state picture in McLeod. Hatchett explained how having students in McLeod allowed the university to provide better social distancing as a precautionary measure. Those in attendance also received welcome speeches from UNI’s new Provost José Herrera, Coach Farley and some alumni. 

Following Panther Kick off, students were sent to the West Gym where they received lunch and then had the opportunity to tour the organization fair on Lawther Field. 

“One of the coolest things that was new this year was when we (UNI Now!) partnered with student life and the organization fair to let students learn about all the student orgs on campus,” Hatchett said. 

“Another new event we had was students finding their classes. In the past it was always something students had the opportunity to do, but there was nothing that specifically said ‘this is the time that we have set aside for you to find your classes,’” Hatchett explained. “This year we had tents set up for students to get help on finding their classes and team members on golf carts riding around to help as well.”  

Another event for UNI Now! was “You Belong at Rod,” an event in which Rod library allowed students to explore and get to know Rod Library and its resources. Bingo was available to play with the opportunity to win give away items, and there were also s’mores at the Campinile. An on-campus job fair was also offered this year, and students who were looking for employment could meet with campus partners who wanted to offer up jobs. It also gave them a chance to get to know more of the campus community. Some places were even doing on-site applications and offering interviews later that day. 

The SHADE event also took place this year and had members of the Student Wellness Center, UNI Police Department, the dean of students office and others educate on important subjects and problems involving sexual health alcohol drug education. 

UNI Now! also hosted a Taste of the Cedar Valley, where five local businesses allowed students two tickets each to try some food from their food trucks. 

“It’s important to get the community involved here on campus. We want students to feel at home whether this is their first time or four or five year,” Hatchett said. “It’s great to see the campus community come together to welcome the students back this fall.”

More fun events that took place were Maucker Live, Silent 

Disco, the Glow Mile, Craft Night and more. A new tradition may be starting this year as UNI Now! offers students to get their picture taken on the first day of school in front of the new Iowa cut out sculpture. Hatchett explained it is her goal to make students feel at home whether it is their first time, or fourth year on campus.

Planning the events was not easy, and Hatchett and her staff were in contact with UNI Risk Management to plan what events they could or couldn’t do throughout the summer.”

We follow whatever protocols are set by the university and Board of Regents, and try to plan as many events outside as possible for less transmission,” Hatchett said. “We also promoted vaccine clinics and even had some vaccine clinics during UNI Now! We had physical distance between students during the fight song, and gave first year students a mask with their kick off t-shirt.”

Hatchett believes UNI Now! and Welcome Week was  successful helping students into the new year, and is looking forward to more CAB events for students.