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A Tale of Two Handbooks

Oh Charleton, great news! Penn State is finally providing us with a new handbook. Tally ho! Let's celebrate with a round of polo!

After reading the Collegian’s editorial about the UPUA’s plans for a freshman student handbook, I was more than a little confused. I felt that some of the criticism that the Collegian levied was spot-on, but surely the final design of the handbook would be superior to a “Web site that would accumulate all the links and information that freshman students …  would find very useful.” I mean, sure, we’d be out 21,000 dollars, but put to good use, that money could create one hell of a sweet handout. “Put to good use” is clearly the important phrase in that sentence.

To find out a little more about the design and intent of the Freshman handbook, I emailed Samantha Miller, who is the Director of Assembly Services for the UPUA. Samantha is spear-heading the Freshman Handbook initiative, so she knows a little bit about what they are going for. The following is my questions and her abridged responses:

OS: Firstly and simply, will the final version of the handbook be released in physical form or on the internet? Are their plans for both physical and virtual forms?

Samantha: The handbook will be released in both paper form and will also be available digitally. Free physical copies of the book will go to new students, while the rest of the student population will be able to access the book online for free.

OS: What advantages will the UPUA handbook offer that are not easily available to the student now? In other words, what makes your design for the handbook better than a list of relevant PSU links and services?
Samantha: The UPUA handbook in paper form is not only a resource for new students but also will be a keepsake for them throughout their time at Penn State as an undergraduate, and also after as an alumni. University Park is as large online as it is here on campus: searching through the website can be as unnerving as trying to find your first class. Students, when conducting an online search, typically aren’t searching to learn broadly about the University–instead–they are searching for an answer to a specific question and that’s it. Having the book in a physical form will encourage a much broader Penn State experience by giving students, in one place, information to skim through page-by-page, as opposed to looking at one webpage and then closing it when the question is answered. Students will be more inclined to flip through the book, exploring what University Park as to offer, and finding points of interest that catch their eye that they never would have thought to look for online because they didn’t even know it existed as an option.

OS: What is your vision for the student handbook? Do you intend for it to just be a repository of useful information for new PSU students, or would you like it to develop a tradition of its own, much like the UF handbook?
Samantha: My vision for the handbook has a few dimensions. For one, the handbook is meant to be a gathering of important information that new students will find helpful and that will contribute to a much smoother transition to college and to Penn State. Secondly, the handbook is being designed to encourage student involvement by highlighting all of the immense academic, co-curricular, and extra-curricular opportunities available to undergraduate students. Many times, students don’t realize something they would have loved to pursue exists here until their sophomore, junior, or even senior years. This book will hopefully expose them to these opportunities much earlier, before they even arrive on campus, so they are more prepared to get the most their time at Penn State.

The book is also intended to create Penn State citizens. By acquainting them to the traditions and culture of their new home before they have even moved in, this book will be shaping students eager and ready to get actively involved in Penn State undergraduate life. This book will also serve as a living archive–with plans to be updated annually, the book will paint a comprehensive picture of University Park in any given year so that students ten years from now can look back and now how Penn State functioned in 2010.

OS: How do you intend to advertise and distribute the completed handbook to incoming freshman? Will it cost money to obtain a handbook? How do you plan to ensure that the time and energy spent on developing a student handbook will not be wasted?
Samantha: I will be working with the administrators in charge of FTCAP to try to get the handbook distributed to every freshmen student in their FTCAP sessions. If distributed at FTCAP, the book will get into the hand of every freshmen early in the summer. There won’t be a need to advertise it, because they will be presented with it in a mandatory trip to campus. There will be no charge for freshmen. This book is an investment in them from their student government–the returns will be demonstrated by strong Penn State citizenship from the moment these new students move onto campus. If UPUA can develop more engaged, more active, and happier students by making them feel like they already have a niche when they arrive and that they already feel a part of the Penn State family because they have some knowledge of their customs and traditions, then we are making great strides.

For me this interview cleared up a lot of my questions about the UPUA Handbook (and made me jealous of incoming Freshman who will get one for free). What do you think? Is the freshman Handbook a great idea, or could the money be used elsewhere?

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