Saturday August 19, 2017

Insider Advice

By Eric F. Spina

Welcome to our very special community, Class of 2021! 

When I greeted the Class of 2020 last August as Dayton’s newly named president, I was not in a position to offer much insider advice because I was a “freshman” myself, still figuring out the names of all the buildings, working hard to make friends and colleagues, developing new and productive habits, and stretching myself in my new environment.  I survived my first year. In fact, I thrived, and I know you will, too.

Because I am now an “expert” about UD and the city of Dayton, I offer six quick pieces of advice to make your learning curve shorter than mine.

My observations and must-do’s:

1. We’re a faith community with many faiths. 

Some people don’t understand how we can be a proud Catholic, Marianist university yet welcome and celebrate all faith traditions. That’s who we are. We believe that through the embrace of a variety of faiths we can learn more about our own faith and grow as people made in God’s image. No matter your religion — or even no religion — I encourage you to find a way to celebrate and explore your faith, whether going to Mass regularly (Karen and I love the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass at the beautiful Chapel), attending a Campus Ministry retreat, visiting a faith-based community, or just building a relationship with a campus minister or a Marianist brother or sister.

2. The classroom extends beyond campus. Well beyond.

Just this summer, I met students who studied abroad or immersed themselves in another culture — from Africa to Appalachia. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Your education will take place in the classrooms — as well as in the residence halls, the porches in the student neighborhood, on the Great Miami River, and even 12 time zones away in Shanghai. Take some time this year to explore the possibilities. I did — and now I’m making my first trip to the UD China Institute this fall.

3. We’re more than basketball, much more.

Yes, you absolutely must go to as many men’s and women’s basketball games as possible at our famous and fun UD Arena, but don’t stop there. We boast numerous championship-caliber teams, and our student-athletes GIVE THEIR ALL for the #FlyerRed and #FlyerBlue. I encourage you to attend at least one game/match/meet for each of our 16 intercollegiate teams, then pick your favorite one or two sports and attend as many of those competitions as possible. You will get to know our smart, competitive, talented and down-to-earth student-athletes, and I guarantee they will perform even better because of your presence.

4. It is an incredible city!

As much as we love to stay on campus, it is fun and rewarding to spend some time out and about in the city of Dayton, a special place you will call home for the next four years (and maybe the rest of your lives!). I could do a separate list of 237 things to do in the city alone, but here are a few quick hits. Borrow a bike from the RecPlex or Dayton’s Link Bike and do a 10-miler on the bike paths along the river. Visit Dayton History (Carillon Park) along the Great Miami River and see the actual Wright Flyer that truly set us on a path toward the stars. Discover a favorite restaurant downtown and visit it with a new friend. Attend a production of the nationally renowned Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. (I don’t care if you don’t like modern dance or have never seen it — this dance troupe will blow you away!).

5. Seek moments of solitude for reflection.

At least once a week, get away from everything — schoolwork, friends, electronic devices, your room — and spend an hour alone someplace quiet to reflect and do a “systems assessment,” checking in on your physical, mental and spiritual selves. Recharge your batteries. Commit yourself to address what is most important in your life at that moment. My favorite place for contemplation is Serenity Pines between Gosiger Hall and Marycrest. Maybe I will see you there and nod a silent greeting.

6. Meet me at the RecPlex at dawn.

This will be the first extended time away from home for many of you.  We rely on our families to ensure that we are sleeping and eating well, exercising, and getting medical attention when we are sick. This ball is purely in your court now. I won’t lecture you, but only suggest that you really should listen to what your parents/guardians say about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  For me, I try to get to the gym regularly. I encourage you to do something physical at least two or three times a week (run, strenuous walk, play intramurals, bike, etc.).  Who knows, maybe I will see you at the RecPlex at 6 a.m. now and then.

Bonus Tips

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors for advice, support and guidance. Cultivate friendships with people different from yourself and see the world through their eyes. And, most importantly, believe in yourself, risk failure — and stretch yourself beyond what you ever imagined.

If you follow this advice, you will not only thrive in your new community but also find yourself giving tips to next year’s class. Your academic journey begins now. Embrace all the possibilities — with confidence, courage and faith. Welcome to the UD family!

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