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Social media ease transition for students at Western Pa. colleges

| Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

When Hannah Truong moved into her dormitory at St. Vincent College in Latrobe last week, she already knew which movies she's be watching with her dorm-mates.

She knew what the other girls liked, where they went to high school and what they looked like – despite never met any of them.

Instead, she got to know the girls through a Facebook group.

“Going in, I didn't know any of these girls except for my roommate,” said Truong, a 2012 Penn-Trafford High School graduate. “It's really reassured me coming here.”

Colleges and universities are using Facebook and Twitter to help incoming students get comfortable with their new life. Officials at some colleges create Facebook pages for students to join as soon as they're accepted, while others create informational pages to keep students up-to-date.

The move towards using social media to reach out to incoming students is a logical jump considering the prevalence of Facebook-use among teens. According to a November study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 80 percent of teens use social networking sites, up from 55 percent in 2006.

The comfort that teens have with social networking is the main impetus for colleges to use Facebook to reach out to incoming students, said Katie Motycki, assistant director for orientation at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“A lot of our social media efforts are coming because if they're doing it this way, we might as well embrace it,” Motycki said. “We want to reach them and communicate with them in the ways they want to be reached.”

That's been the case at Duquesne University as well. Upon acceptance, students are invited to a Facebook page for their freshman class, said Anthony Cappa, assistant director of admissions at Duquesne University. Currently, that page has more than 1,300 “likes” and dozens of posts from students looking to connect with others in their majors or dorms. Some students even posted looking for good deals on textbooks.

At American University in Washington D.C., students use Facebook to find their roommates.

Audrey Schreiber, a freshman in the School of Communications and 2012 Shaler Area High School graduate, said the class of 2016 created a page for people looking for roommates.

While she uses university-sponsored Facebook pages to stay up-to-date on deadlines and information, she doesn't recommend making excessive and random posts on the school pages.

“Then people start to get annoyed with you before you get to college,” said Schreiber, 18. “And when you do get to college, people already know your name – you become Facebook royalty, almost.”

Cappa said Facebook enables incoming students to develop a level of comfort at their new college before they arrive.

“Today's college-bound teens have the unique opportunity to get to know one another – via social networking – months before they actually set foot on a college campus,” Cappa said. “They've already begun to establish relationships, so when they meet in person for the first time, any apprehension or anxiety that they might normally have when meeting new people is almost non-existent. They already feel like they've met.”

Among the several social media pages at IUP, students can “like” a page for the university's office of housing and residence life to ask information about dorm life and activities. More than 1,900 people “like” that page. Motycki said the university also used Twitter during its orientation program this year, encouraging freshmen to use the hashtag “#new2IUP” to connect with other freshmen at the two-day seminar.

“There's always the issue that they don't know anybody else because the place is so big,” Motycki said. “Facebook allows them to connect with the new people in their lives, but stay connected with the people they're leaving behind.”

That's what Veenal Sample plans to do. The 2012 Franklin Regional graduate looked up his roommate and fellow soccer players on Facebook before moving in to the University of Pittsburgh, main campus, last week.

By the time he was unpacking in his dorm, he was comfortable talking with several other guys from his floor and his roommate.

“It's helped me a lot,” said Sample, of Murrysville. “I highly recommend making a lot of connections before you get to college.”

Klancey Burford, a Shaler graduate, did the same thing.

She and her roommate at Allegheny College in Meadville used Facebook to figure out who would bring the refrigerator and who was responsible for the microwave. The girls also set up “courtesy rules” for their dorm – when visitors were welcome and when they could have private time – through Facebook chats.

“It really helped me feel less stress about the moving in process,” Burford said the night before she moved in. “You already have faces you recognize on the first day and it helps relieve some of the anxiety.”

It's advice that Kelly Frank gives to all of her students at Quaker Valley High School. Frank, director of collegiate affairs for the district, said she sees Quaker Valley seniors connecting with their colleges – and future classmates – earlier and earlier each year.

“Years ago, the orientation program used to sort of be kids' first communication with their roommate or advisor,” Frank said.

“Now, it's happening only days or weeks after they put their admissions deposit in.

“The sooner a student can connect with their school, the better they'll feel about their choice and the school. (Facebook is) a great way to get kids connected with each other sooner.”

Frank said she typically hears from students who are anxious about going away to college and leaving their friends and family behind. Facebook helps with that too.

Motycki agrees.

“Thanks to Facebook or whatever social media they use, they don't have to truly leave their high school life behind,” Motycki said.

That's the plan for Truong, who is looking forward to keeping in touch with old friends while planning those movie nights with her new dorm-mates.

“It's definitely helped me out,” Truong said.

“It worked out well – now, I know more people going into my freshman year than I would have otherwise.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8627 or

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