October 29, 2021
Just like the rest of their graduating class, sophomores Jessica Quesada, Jake Okun and Grace Valandra missed out on the in-person campus experiences of a typical first year at ASU due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of experiencing the whirlwind of searching for their classrooms on their first day of college and feeling the excitement of Fall Welcome in person, these rites of passage were experienced virtually from behind a computer screen by most students who started college last fall.
That’s why when it was time for many Sun Devil sophomores to finally make their on-campus debut, Quesada, Okun and Valandra joined a team of student leaders helping to promote ASU’s SophoMORE Experience. The new initiative is dedicated to welcoming sophomores to campus this fall and helping to recreate what they missed last fall.
“Last year, I felt really disconnected from ASU and the school spirit side of it. I was in my dorm most of the year. I didn't know many people, and I didn't know what events were going on,” said Valandra, who is studying sports business on the Tempe campus.
Valandra’s main role was to promote and attend the sophomore welcome events. She worked to make sure her fellow classmates knew about the featured events being offered and encouraging them to attend. She also helped by providing the university with feedback from her peers about what kinds of events sophomores would most like to attend and experience.
For the first few weeks of the semester, students from each campus planned several events to help sophomores feel welcome and make connections with one another. Quesada and Okun are both members of the Undergraduate Student Government on the Polytechnic campus.
“My position in student government has been a really unique experience, [especially] coming back as a sophomore and not experiencing all those welcome events freshman year. Being a part of student government has really allowed me to immerse myself into those types of events,” said Quesada, who is studying business administration and software engineering. Quesada serves as a senator for the W.P. Carey School of Business on ASU’s Polytechnic campus.
Okun, a Scottsdale native who is studying mechanical engineering systems, currently serves as the vice president of services on the Polytechnic campus.
“It's just really important to me that I get to help out students, and just planning the sophomore events and working with the planners with the events, I think it's just an amazing opportunity to make sure that everyone on campus is included and that the sophomores actually get their real experience,” Okun said.
As Okun began his college experience virtually via Zoom, he wanted to find other ways to connect to his campus, which led him to join USG, initially as a senator and eventually advancing to his current leadership position..
“I felt that it was just a great opportunity for me because I love leadership and service and the two kind of just meshed together. As the year went on, I got more and more involved and I became the appropriations chair and then I'm now the vice president of services for Undergraduate Student Government Polytechnic. I'm loving it so far,” Okun said. “I think that it's amazing that I get to be there to help students, not just sophomores but anyone on campus with anything they need.”
Just like many other sophomores, this is Okun’s first year on campus, so it is just that much more important to him that he helps plan these events for other sophomores. Similarly, Quesada is dedicated to ensuring the Polytechnic campus is a supportive and inclusive space for all students returning to campus.
“It's about creating an atmosphere that allows students who are coming back this year to feel comfortable in the environment they're in and also know that they're being supported by their peers,” Quesada said. “It's just been a really great experience seeing so many [students] have fun and learn that they have this place where they can feel comfortable and not feel that pressure [of] coming back to campus.”
USG Poly worked in conjunction with the Planning and Activities Board and other campus organizations to organize several in-person events geared toward sophomores on the Polytechnic campus. One example is the campus’s Sophomore Welcome. This was an event aimed directly at sophomores and allowed them to learn about on-campus organizations such as USG and about the resources available to them.
Additionally, Polytechnic hosted several events aimed at welcoming Sun Devils at all levels back on campus -- Partytechnic and Polypalooza, to name a few. Partytechnic featured attractions such as a roller rink, a bounce house and an inflatable obstacle course. Polypalooza was a carnival where students could play games and get free food.
In addition to offering a Sophomore Welcome event at every campus, the initiative has also featured a Sophomore Night at the first Sun Devil football game of the season, discounted tickets to see Hamilton at Gammage and a day at the ballpark to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I'm a sports business major, so it was really important for me to go to the football games. The baseball game was also super fun. I just like being with other students and really seeing that school spirit and all the little traditions that they do at the game,” Valandra said.
For Quesada, the best part of the experience has been being able to make her own connections in the planning process.
“[My favorite part] was definitely the people,” Quesada said. “This is my first year with student government, and the people within student government on the Poly campus have been so amazing and so helpful and they're just really kind and just overall really supportive people to be around. It's made a lot of things more enjoyable.”
Valandra, Quesada and Okun all feel that overall, ASU has done a great job of welcoming students, especially sophomores, back on campus this fall.
“I think the university has done a fantastic job so far, and I applaud them for all their efforts, because they've done basically everything they can to ensure that everyone had the same experience and that everyone was welcome on campus,” Okun said.
Okun said he hopes the university continues and expands efforts to provide customized welcome events for students at every stage of their ASU experience to make them feel included and welcomed back to campus each year. He is also looking forward to future events that help all Sun Devils network and connect with one another.
“We really want to make sure it’s known that we're here for the sophomores and we understand that it's not the average time. Everyone is ready to get rid of COVID, except we're not there yet,” Okun said. “[We want to] make sure that everyone is included, and we want the sophomores to feel like they're welcome on campus.”
Sophomores can find information about upcoming events and university resources on the SophoMORE Experience website and in the sophomore newsletter that is published twice per semester.