Christina Morrow ’20 shares how the award-winning, First-Year Experience Program helped her acclimate to the rigors and embrace the opportunities of college life.

By Kris Dreessen

Before Christina Morrow ’20 started classes at Geneseo, she spent three days in Letchworth State Park with other students also new to college life. They learned about local indigenous history and the park’s flora, fauna and biodiversity. They camped, hiked, rafted in the gorge, wrote in their journals and pulled invasive vinca plants. They sifted water to collect microinvertebrates, which are examined to determine stream health.

The activities allowed the students to sample academics and apply newfound knowledge and skills in the field, acclimating them to college life during their transition from high school.

“I was unsure what Geneseo would be like and what I was getting into,” remembers Morrow. “The course helped me ease into the experience.” 

Geneseo offers three First-Year Experiences during the summer — in the Adirondacks, Letchworth and the Genesee Valley. During the fall semester, faculty and staff instructors meet with students for reflection and discussion. In 2017, the Letchworth program earned an honorable mention from SUNY’s Outstanding Student Affairs Program Awards. 

“The programs expose and connect students to the local community and to the change in academic rigor at college, so they have a better rooting and stronger context for the learning they will participate in during the following years,” says Meg Reitz, associate director of student life for educational initiatives.

Morrow says the program opened her to everything she could do at Geneseo, and through it she developed a path to act on her passion for the environment and her studies.

Q. What appealed to you about the First-Year Experience program?

A. In high school, I was all about studying and had no idea what classes or my social life would be like at Geneseo, or what field I really wanted to pursue. Letchworth was an introduction to all the “little” aspects, which are pretty important, that build your life at Geneseo. 

Q. How has this experience impacted your time at Geneseo?

A. It really set me up for the rest of my Geneseo experiences. I met two geography professors, James Kernan and David Robertson, who became mentors. I chose geography as a major because of what I learned in the course. I met some of my best friends on the trip and joined Geneseo’s Friends of Recreation, Conservation and Environmental Stewardship (FORCES) club. I also interned with the Genesee Valley Conservancy and Geneseo’s student-led composting program. I am looking forward to a conservation internship at Letchworth this summer, through the Letchworth Partnership, a joint College and state park partnership.

Q. Why did you choose geography?

A. Geographers study the physical aspects of the earth, the effect humans have on it and the distribution, patterns and practices of people in general. I love the humanities and am an English minor, but I also think science is increasingly important as we change our environment and need to understand what actions to take. 

Q. You were the teaching assistant for the Letchworth program last summer. What did you share with this group of new students?

A. I brought my experiences to help them get the most out of it. I told them that they will figure things out on their own because everyone is different, but I shared with them how I handled various situations. I tried to make it fun for them, going on hikes, geocaching and being positive.

Q. You really embraced the idea of trying new things in your Letchworth experience. How did that shape your attitude?

A. I told myself to forget the anxiousness and awkwardness I felt and to go make friends and have a good time. Don’t waste the opportunity! I carried that attitude with me and it served me well. There are a lot of opportunities at Geneseo and I wanted to make the most them, like joining the Orchesis dance group although I’m not a dancer. After college, I will have to seek out my own opportunities, and I know I can. I always get something out of each experience I try.