As part of the freshman orientation process, incoming students at the University of Montana are required to take part in ‘the Big Sky Experience’ to help them get acquainted with each other and their new surroundings.

UM Director of Communications Paula Short said there are several ways that new students can take part.

“We put in a required ‘Big Sky Experience’ for the first three days,” said Short. “Students were able to select from several choices, but each was a small group of 25 students. I, for example, led a cohort of students that learned about the history and traditions on campus and then went out on the campus and painted grizzly bear paws on the sidewalks with inspirational quotes inside of them. They were able to select their own quotes. Most importantly, they all got to be together to establish those bonds.”

Short described some of the other projects that the incoming freshmen took part in.

“We had a group that went out to Milltown State Park and did some conservation work, while other cohorts were embedded with local businesses doing service projects, and of course we had some that took part in the freshman wilderness experience where they went backpacking or canoeing,” she said. “These were designed to help students build small cohesive networks of friends and peers, because we know that students with a sense of belonging are more likely to persist at the university and be more successful academically.”

Short said this was the first year of the freshman Big Sky Experience and officials are already making plans for the next session in the fall of 2020.