Story by Luke Cameron | Contributing Writer
Another summer at Middle Tennessee State University has meant another round of CUSTOMS sessions for transfer and freshman students. The school hosted almost 20 separate CUSTOMS events between the months of May and July.
CUSTOMS events help new students and their families get acclimated to campus. “Students participate in a couple of student success sessions in the morning, explore campus guided by Student Orientation Assistants, meet with academic advisors, and register for classes,” director of new student and family programs Gina Poff said.
Students also participated in scheduled yard parties, where campus departments and student organizations set up tables and make their pitches to new students. This summer, the yard parties were held on the Student Union lawn or inside the building in cases of inclement weather.
Dr. Pat Richey, the university’s director of forensics and also the advisor to the MTSU Debate Team, tabled for both the team and the Department of Communication Studies. “It’s definitely one of our biggest recruiting events,” he said about the yard parties. “We come every single time unless there’s a personnel problem.”
Richey said the number of departments and student organizations represented this summer was about the same as in summers past. MT SPARE, the June Anderson Center and MT Lambda were staples at the yard parties, he said.
A number of religious organizations were represented as well. Among them were the Wesley Foundation, The Point, Young Life, Calvary College Ministry, Baptist Collegiate Ministry, Belle Aire College Ministry, World Outreach College Ministry, MT316 Campus Church and Raiders for Christ. “If you can’t find Jesus at CUSTOMS, you’ve got problems,” Richey said.
Lisa Schrader is the university’s director of health promotion and advisor for the Raider Health Corps, a student organization. Like Richey, this summer she tabled for both her department, Health Services, and her club. “As a student organization advisor, CUSTOMS tabling presents a way to meet students who have similar interests and get them plugged into a group together,” Schrader said. “As an employee of Health Services, tabling is an opportunity to set parents’ minds at ease that there are resources on-site to support their students when they are sick.”
Schrader, who has been with the university for well over a decade, is impressed by the work that Poff, director of student organizations and service Jackie Victory, their staffs and many other employees do to make CUSTOMS happen. “CUSTOMS, for many students and their families, is their first experience on a college campus, and I’ve always thought MTSU has done a great job of making a large campus feel like a small community.”
While new students interact with MTSU staff and current students at the yard parties, live entertainment is frequently on-hand in the form of MTSU student singer-songwriters. This summer the artists offered a mix of covers and original material.
One of the headliners at the beginning of the summer was MTSU student Cassie Joy, who gave a rousing performance highlighted by the playing of her song “Garden,” which currently boasts more than three thousand streams on Spotify. Joy and the other summer musicians delved into the American songbook as well, putting their own signatures on such classics as “Take it Easy” by the Eagles and more contemporary hits like “Slow Hands” by Niall Horan, “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5, and “Love Story” by Taylor Swift.
“They went well, with great attendance from campus departments and student organizations,” Poff said about the yard parties. “We wish the weather would have cooperated a little more, as many had to be moved inside due to extreme heat or rain. But we still managed to be set up to serve our incoming students.”
As to whether he would rather be tabling outside in the elements or inside in the Student Union, Richey was unequivocal. “Definitely inside, because it’s cool,” he said. “We, like the parents and many of the students coming in, don’t want to sweat to death outside. It’s hot, it’s miserable.”
Poff said a lot of preparation from a lot of people went into the yard parties. “We started planning the yard parties about two months before CUSTOMS. We wanted to include as many participants as wanted to be involved. The personpower to set up and break down is provided by Student Union staff as part of the fee CUSTOMS pays to use the facility. They do a ton of hard work and they have been excellent to work with.”
Jackie Victory, Ashlin Murphy and Chynna Mallory were integral to the implementation of the yard parties as well.
Poff was pleased with how the CUSTOMS yard parties went this summer, and she is looking forward to offering them to incoming students in the future. “The CUSTOMS participants commented on how they enjoyed being able to interact with so many people and that they got great information,” Poff said. “We feel the benefit of having all these resources in one location for incoming students and their guests is positive, and we plan to continue the activity in the future.”
Richey said he and his debate team members will be back, too. “We’ve got 87 million clubs on campus, so if you don’t talk to students before school or that first week, you’ll lose them. This is important.”
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