Summer Stampede captures diversity of college life

07-14-2016-4866July 14, 2016 | Summer Stampede |

The second session of Summer Stampede begins today, and approximately 430 students and their families are on campus for a two-day orientation. Throughout the program, incoming freshmen get familiar with campus, learn about the University’s diverse academic offerings, build a fall class schedule, and meet fellow students. Though students and families are on campus for a short time, much planning goes into making the program effective for both students and parents.

“We try to understand and then relay information to both parents and students from a broad representation of the people and services that students will need or encounter in order to be successful at Harding,” Dean of Student Success Kevin Kehl said.

The Center for Student Success works to plan and prepare for the program each year. Stephanie O’Brian has been working for the University since 2010. As assistant director of Summer Stampede, she says she has spent a lot of time trying to find the balance of fun activities and business activities, which she says is “more conducive to making friends and getting to know people.”

“Last year was the first year I was involved with Stampede at any level, and it was quite the learning experience!” she said. “We have switched around the schedule some in an effort to find this balance and give the proper time to all the things which need to be fit into Stampede.”

“There is a special energy that accompanies the new students coming to Harding, and it is nearly tangible.” -Stephanie O’Brian

O’Brian’s first experience on campus when she was a student was when she came to Summer Stampede as an incoming freshman. Though she had no idea what to expect when she got here, she said she was immediately comforted by the people she met. Now, she loves being that person to new students and their families.

“The people I met were so kind and encouraging. It blew me away!” she said. “There is a special energy that accompanies the new students coming to Harding, and it is nearly tangible. I love that energy.”

Kehl also recognizes the importance of new students meeting people. In the transition from high school to college, this is a key factor in a student’s success.“It is also critical that students begin and progress in their transition from high school and home to the Harding classroom and campus life in general,” he said. “While many have been to campus, they have not done so with the reality of actually beginning their academic careers here at Harding. Meeting new friends who are going through this same process helps them approach the reality of this new beginning in their lives with more confidence. It is equally important for students to be introduced to faculty and staff who will be a part of the support systems necessary for their success.”


Meeting faculty and staff is not only important for students. O’Brian also believes these connections can really make a difference in a parent’s perspective of the University.

“It is so vital for parents to feel like they are leaving their child not just at a school but at a place of true community where they can be challenged and edified in a safe, Christian atmosphere,” she said. “I am not a parent, but I can imagine that it would be hard to leave your children in a place if you did not feel like the people there wanted what was in their best interests. Harding is blessed with truly amazing faculty and staff who love the students here. I hope parents can get a glimpse of those special relationships during Stampede.”

“Meeting new friends who are going through this same process helps them approach the reality of this new beginning in their lives with more confidence.” -Kevin Kehl

One important aspect of the Summer Stampede experience is making a good impression on students and parents who are experiencing Harding for the first time. O’Brian acknowledges that students who come for Stampede are still able to change their minds about attending school here in the fall.

“If they come here and they do not have the experience we yearn for them to have, there is a good chance they won’t come back,” she said. “Harding is a unique university in the sense that we do not just offer academic and intellectual growth, but we offer a deep spiritual, emotional and social journey as well. We would like all of those aspects to be highlighted during Stampede so students know what they are getting into.”

Through academic fairs, campus tours, dorm life, information sessions, devotionals, and a variety of other introductory activities, O’Brian’s hope is that students come away with a foundation of excitement and anticipation of beginning their lives at Harding.

“I want them to feel excited about the new journey ahead of them — the spiritual, social, intellectual and emotional growth,” she said. “I want them to feel both peace and joy about what is to come in August and the four (or more) years beyond. I also want their families to feel the same sense of contentment, excitement, peace and joy. I would love for the new students coming for Stampede to come here knowing that they have made the right choice in choosing Harding.”

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