May 22, 2024

Melissa Jones: Oriented For Success

This might just be Melissa Jones’ favorite time of year. For two frenetic weeks, the assistant dean of student involvement will help welcome nearly 1,000 incoming students to campus for a 24-hour introduction to college life at the University of Mary Washington.

The first group arrived on Tuesday. The final group of first-year students will leave June 27. The goal of Jones and her team is to ensure the experience they get brings them back on move-in day — and keeps them coming back all four years.

Assistant Dean of Student Involvement Melissa Jones thrives on her role helping new college students find their way.

Assistant Dean of Student Involvement Melissa Jones thrives in her role helping new college students find their way.

“It’s our job to see the potential in every student we come across,” Jones said. “Every student at Mary Washington needs someone who believes in them. That’s us, out of the gate.”

Orientation takes a year of planning. By the time incoming students arrive, Jones has moved onto campus for the duration. It’s that consuming. It’s also that important.

“Orientation helps form a deeper and stronger connection to the university,” said Jones, who in addition to overseeing the program supervises the offices of Campus Recreation, the James Farmer Multicultural Center and Student Activities and Engagement.

The experience can also mean the difference between a student deciding to make UMW home or going elsewhere. That’s why, Jones said, “we put our best foot forward.”

Q: How did you choose the field of education?
A: I was going to go to law school. Halfway through the Law School Admission Test, I looked around and thought, “I don’t want to spend the next three years with these people.” I took the GRE two weeks later. I was fighting the education bug.

Q: What is the goal of Orientation
A: Students are coming from the K-12 experience where they had their friends and they knew what to expect. Now they’re trying to find their footing. One of our main purposes is to create for them a community with each other and the institution.

Q: What message do you want incoming students to take away from Orientation?
A: This is the place where you can be found. You can show up here and be your authentic self and you will be found.

Q: Any interesting activities or events scheduled for Orientation?
A: There’s UMW Live, skits and plays written for students and by students that cover a range of topics, from housing and financial aid to academic services and making good choices. Students hear it differently when it comes from other students. It’s more meaningful. There are video games, golf cart tours, adult coloring if you need something lower key. There’s Bingo in the Underground and a big game of Four Square outside the UC. We have pizza at 10 p.m. That’s college.

Q: Anything you’d like faculty and staff to keep in mind during Orientation?
A: We encourage everybody to be patient and welcoming. One of the best things about this community is how welcoming it is. Keep up the good work you’re doing. And let us know if there’s a need not being met.

Q: What are some of the more unusual questions people ask during Orientation?
A: We have some students who ask where they can go to find a party. Parents and guests ask us if we’re going to do bed checks and things like that. No, we’re not.

Q: Any favorite quotes you try to live by?
A: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” It’s from a James Taylor song. There is joy in every single moment. Try not to forget that. Try not to let anyone steal your joy.