by Billy Clouse
As she emerges from the tunnel of the Centrum Arena, her hair catches the sunlight. Surrounded by parents on both sides, Lauren Robb follows the path to the Bell Tower. As she moves closer to the monument, she can hear the bells ring to the sound of drums.
Robb, a freshman biology major from Las Vegas, was one of almost 1,900 new T-Birds to participate in the Bell Tower Tradition during Thunder U.
“It was nice having all the parents there because it’s like a final goodbye,” she said. “It made me feel official.”
One of the main organizers of this year’s Thunder U was Heather Garcia, a Master of Public Administration candidate from Taylorsville. As the Coordinator for Orientation and First-Year Experience, she was involved in the decision-making process.
This year, the orientation groups were separated by interest instead of major.
“We realized that just because two people are chemistry majors, they might have nothing in common,” Garcia said. “We might want to go into the same field, but you could like books and I could like hiking.”
Last year, Garcia and others in the FYE Office put together a list of 400 hobbies. They asked current students which ones they would sign up for and narrowed the list from those results.
“We originally had a team captain over LARPing and cosplay, but no student selected that as their first choice, so we dissolved it,” Garcia said. “We thought ‘The Hunger Games’ would be a hit, but it wasn’t. Grey’s Anatomy wasn’t a hit, either, but general sports and hiking were popular.”
One of the interests that surprised Garcia was “reading.” She thought it would get few students, but there were over 15 groups dedicated to the interest.
Of all the groups, “hiking” was the most popular, followed by “general sports.”
Jonas Lungstrass, a junior communication major from Cologne, Germany, served as a TAVI Group leader for a second year, this time over the travel interest group.
“I just wanted to improve from last year,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with my personal performance, and I’m doing international orientation anyway since I’m an International Student Ambassador, so I might as well.”
Lungstrass traveled to McCarran International Airport to meet students as they arrived on August 19 and 20. After this, he helped out with the students’ orientation, which began the following Monday.
There, newcomers to the U.S. were assisted in opening bank accounts and transported to Walmart.
“Since I first arrived here, orientation has changed 360 degrees,” Lungstrass said. “I was supported by everyone, but there’s more help now. It amazes me how much it improved in two years.”
Many of the events from last year were reused, such as Chalk Campus, Lightning Rounds, RHA Campus Tye-Dye Party and the Torch Run.
However, there were some new events, such as “Connect your nation to campus.” This involved planning a two-hour event for each group that was related to their interest.
“People who said they loved eating, they went down Main Street and got samples of Bulloch Drug’s ice cream and other things,” Garcia said. “People who loved paddleboarding were bussed to the Lake at the Hills. People who loved cooking went to the kitchen on Upper Campus.”
Madi Maynard was in charge of planning this event, and Garcia said this was the hardest one to plan because they had to coordinate the movement of almost 2,000 students.
Another change to Thunder U involved move-in day. Last year’s events started in the afternoon after move-in, and Garcia said that many students were stressed about unpacking and starting their orientation the same day. This year, students moved in on Wednesday, and the main events started on Thursday.
To improve on last year’s organization, the FYE Office planned overlapping events so students could choose which they wanted to do.
“Research shows that students love late-night programming, and we tried to do an extrovert option and an introvert option,” Garcia said. “This incoming generation loves options, so if they can choose what they get to do, they’re less inclined to feel like they’re forced to go to something.”
Robb said she enjoyed the late-night extrovert options.
“‘T-Birds After Dark’ and the Grand Finale Concert were my favorite activities,” she said. “I really enjoyed walking around with my new friends and trying the oxygen bar and dancing in the living room. I love live music, no matter who it is, so the concert was a great way to jump around and have fun with everyone and sing along to our favorite songs on the last night!”
Garcia said that no one person made Thunder U a success, but rather a team of students and staff.
“The incoming class and the captains were just the perfect match,” she said. “The ACEs worked their tails off, and the students had so much fun because they brought that energy with them."
Q&A with freshman Audrey Tran
What did you think of Thunder U?
I think it’s great to just be involved and get completely thrown into something that might be scary at first. You’re surrounded by thousands of kids that are floating in the same boat as you. They’re going through the same things as you, feeling the same things you are. It’s something that’s scary, but you really feel at home.
What was it like walking under the Bell Tower?
There’s been so much buildup to it because it’s the only time you’ll do it before graduation. Being there and surrounded by everyone cheering you on and knowing they’re there for your success and want you to be happy, it was thrilling.
What are you most excited about going into college?
Honestly, it’s a clean slate, it’s a new start. The only expectation is to be the best I can be. I feel like I have no limits, I can go into this year and start these new classes and start this new experience and get to know new people and it’s all what I’m going to make of it.
Talk to me about the TAVI Group organization.
Almost everyone in my group has a different major. You’re surrounded by so many different backgrounds and so many different stories and interests but you all have something that links you together.
Why did you sign up for the travel group?
I’ve been to 29 states, but I haven’t been out of the country yet. Finding an adventure wherever you are is what I love. I wanted to move out, but the fact that I could come here and not be too far away and be surrounded by all these national parks made it perfect for me and what I wanted to do.
What is your favorite trip you’ve ever been on?
I think every place is special and beautiful the way it is, but when I was 12, my family went to the Pacific Northwest and it was a two-week long trip along the coast. It was beautiful and I made so many memories with my family. We camped and we stayed in hotels, and I just got to see it all.