MSU freshman involvement persists despite COVID-19 setbacks

Mississippi State University students gather at Grace Presbyterian Church to attend a Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) large group gathering.

On-campus involvement looks a little different this year due to the effects of COVID-19 on the safety of large group meetings.

This affects freshmen more than any other group as they enter Mississippi State University's campus for the first time, looking for leadership opportunities and clubs to call their own.

Luckily, many student organizations at MSU are doing everything they can to recruit freshmen and encourage involvement.

Three of the most prominent freshman-friendly organizations are offered by the Student Association and known fondly as the Freshman Groups. These include Freshman Forum, Freshman Edge and Freshman Council.

Smith Lyon, a junior marketing major, is the current director of outreach for Freshman Forum. He believes Freshman Groups often act as the doorway for future SA involvement and are a great way to meet new people.

"If you plan to get involved in your time at Mississippi State, this is what you do first, and it's the best way to meet people," Lyon said. "We really want to emphasize to freshmen that they may want to join a freshman group just to meet friends."

SA accepts around 80-90 freshmen each year to split between the three groups. When students apply, they apply for all three and rank their choices between them.

Freshman Forum trains students throughout the year to serve as counselors for the Donald Zacharias Leader Conference (DZLC) in late Febuary or early March, which hosts high school juniors and seniors as they learn more about collegiate leadership and involvement.

This year, the DZLC will also host college freshmen for the first time. Freshman Forum is also currently exploring other ways it can contribute to MSU, rather than focusing only on the upcoming conference.

Freshman Edge, another of the Freshman Groups, focuses on leadership through service both on campus and within the Starkville community.

Sarah Rendon, a sophomore majoring in communication, is the director of Freshman Edge. Rendon is already thinking of ways the group can give back during the pandemic.

"I imagine that we'll have to make adjustments to large-scale service projects to keep everyone involved safe, but we're not going to give up on serving this campus or curating strong leadership within it," Rendon said.

The application deadline for the Freshman Groups has already passed, and interviews began on Aug. 25.

The Freshman Groups are not the only way for freshmen to get involved at MSU. Two more opportunities can be found in Music Maker Productions and Reformed University Fellowship, or RUF.

Music Makers is a group of twenty students dedicated to bringing quality entertainment to MSU and the Starkville community. Applications are open to all undergraduate students, including freshmen, and are due Sept. 10.

An interest meeting will be held virtually through WebEx at 6:30 p.m. on September 3.

Madeline Emery, a senior kinesiology major, is the current director of Music Makers. She encourages any student who shares her passion for music to consider joining Music Makers.

"I joined Music Makers as a freshman, and it was a great way to meet friends, invest in the university and be a part of something I was truly passionate about," Emery said. "Despite the setbacks, we encourage freshmen and all students to get involved."

Finally, RUF is one of the college ministries with a large following on campus, offering itself as a safe place to explore the Bible while meeting other people.

Anne Michal Carter, a second-year intern and graduate from Texas A&M, has been a part of RUF for over six years. She says the RUF community at MSU is much larger and more involved than most.

"I really like RUF at State because there's a lot of student involvement," Carter said. "I came from a smaller group of around 30 people, but here there's a really good community where you can come and meet friends."

RUF had to adjust its recruitment process this year. Where the group would normally visit residence halls on move-in day, they instead placed signs across campus with QR codes that led to new-student forms and available groups.

Carter said this has not changed RUF's level of participation, though, demonstrated by the number of attendees at this year's freshman meet-and-greet.

There are many more opportunities on campus to get involved with, despite COVID-19 concerns, and many organizations are doing their best to ensure continued freshmen participation and a semblance of normalcy for comfort in today's difficulties. 

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