Southeast Students Learn Leadership Skills while Preparing New Students for College Life


While starting college can be an exciting experience, it can also generate anxiety among incoming freshmen and, possibly more so, among their parents. Southeast Missouri State University’s new student orientation, called First STEP (Southeast Testing and Enrollment Program), can help ease the nerves of both generations.

The First STEP experience, which is required for all new Southeast students, prepares students to navigate the resources available to them at Southeast, according to Theresa Haug Belvin, coordinator of orientation and first-year programs. Students have the opportunity to meet current students, faculty and staff members, and make connections that can guide them through their first year of college. The First STEP sessions offer opportunities to meet with academic advisors and enroll for courses as well.

The First STEP program’s success is due, in part, to the participation of current Southeast students who serve as orientation leaders.

“Our orientation leaders serve many functions during First STEP,” Belvin said. “They do everything from checking in new students and their family members, facilitating sessions, processing test scores, conducting question and answer sessions, assisting the academic advisors, and conducting walking tours of the campus.”

Heather Valle, a junior mass communication major from De Soto, Mo., says her position as a student orientation leader helps her to be more involved on campus and feels including current students in First STEP adds to the strength of the program.

“I enjoy being active on campus and felt that my involvement in Southeast life could extend to working with new students,” she said. “Being only a few years older than the typical new student, I still remember the nervousness and anticipation of classes and college life, and I wanted to help students feel comfortable with their college choice and what college life would be like. I can give new students a current student perspective.”

The selection process for orientation leaders tends to be competitive, according to Belvin. Typically, 25 to 30 students apply, but only half that number is selected, she said.

“In order to be selected as an orientation leader, students must go through an application process that includes writing some brief essays,” Belvin said. “Once the application process is complete, they undergo an interview process.”

While new orientation leaders are chosen each year, returning leaders are also invited back, Belvin said.

The orientation leaders train for approximately 10 hours in preparation to work the dozen First STEP orientation sessions scheduled throughout the year. As orientation leaders, they offer one of the first impressions that many new students and their families receive of the University.

“This is a tremendous leadership experience for the students who serve as orientation leaders because they have to be so versatile in their jobs,” said Belvin. They have to know how to speak comfortably in public, they have to be able to think on their feet by answering hundreds of questions all day long, and they have the opportunity to work in a team with the other orientation leaders. I have seen orientation leaders become extremely confident young men and women through this leadership experience. They really do a magnificent job for the University.”

Southeast has three First STEP sessions remaining before the start of the fall semester. The sessions are scheduled for June 26, July 23 and Aug. 21. For information, contact New Student Programs at (573) 651-5166 or go to