Point-Counterpoint | The case for PittStart


Emily Wolfe | Contributing Editor

Incoming students had an opportunity to experience dorm living before moving in during the now defunct PittStart program.

By Josh Beylinson, Staff Columnist

For many people, PittStart, Pitt’s old overnight college orientation program, was the first chance for incoming students to get a taste of University life. Students would stop by for a couple days on select dates over the summer, sleep in a residence hall and partake in various group activities on campus and around the city, getting a feel for Oakland and connecting with other first-years.

The incoming class of 2023 will never experience it.

Today, I’m still friends with some of the other students that I met at PittStart. They helped me feel at ease when I first came to Pitt as a nervous newbie and feature in many of the memories I have made since.

While Panther Connect offers many of the same things seen in PittStart, there were many features of PittStart that made it a much better program. The old summer program allowed a majority of students to become familiar with their new home before being thrust onto a crowded campus and met with academic commitments at the start of the year.

Even though Pitt is adding many of the PittStart activities to Welcome Week, part of the charm of PittStart is that it’s during the summer when there are not nearly as many people on campus compared to the fall and spring semesters. It’s just groups of incoming first-years getting to know each other and their future campus. While it’s true that many students will get to experience a little bit of Pittsburgh during Welcome Week right before school starts, the campus is much more packed and the experience can be very overwhelming for someone not familiar with Pitt’s campus or the City.

Unlike Panther Connect, which only takes on a few thousand students over the course of the summer, everyone had to do PittStart. But the groups that came to PittStart sessions each summer were relatively small, since there were multiple weeks in which the program ran. Thus, everyone was given much more individual attention compared to Welcome Week. And since PittStart happened during the summer months instead of right before classes, people were generally less stressed and could explore the City and campus without having to worry about their first lecture happening in three days.

Students like rising sophomore biology major Rhaelynn Zito agree that PittStart offered a sociable and welcoming experience.

“While it was annoying to drive there for two days I actually met people I kept in contact with all year,” Hope said. “Plus it was nice to be on campus for a night before actually moving there.”

Besides all the various places around the City that new students are able to see, the friends that people make during PittStart, even if they are temporary, can make a very big difference for someone as they adjust to college life. Many people come to Pitt and don’t have any friends from their high school coming with them, so they have to make a new circle of friends here at Pitt. Group chats set up among attendees allowed small groups of students to form a social network before even showing up to campus.

Many students enjoyed the ability to experience Pittsburgh with people their age and without their parents guiding them along, like rising junior political science major Chloe Chappell.

“I mostly just liked being on campus and experiencing the freedom of college for the first time,” Chappell said. “At night we went down to the Milkshake Factory [in the South Side] and watched the sunset at the Point, which was beautiful. My roommate for PittStart was pretty cool. For some godforsaken reason, we got up early and hiked up Cardiac Hill and that was fun.”

My own PittStart experience included a trip to the Milkshake Factory, albeit in Downtown. I’ve loved going there ever since.

It is understandable why Pitt would remove PittStart, though, as it can be difficult for people far away to come all the way to campus just for the weekend. It makes sense why Pitt is now offering an online version of summer orientation and adding the PittStart activities to Welcome Week.

But eliminating PittStart altogether is not a good move. It removes a very special summer program that really helped people feel more welcome on campus and in the City. If anything, Pitt should have made attendance optional for students who had financial or scheduling conflicts, instead of making the entire experience optional.

I had many fantastic memories from PittStart and am still very good friends with the people I met there. It saddens me to know that the majority of future Pitt students won’t be pushed to make the memories and meet the strong friends that previous generations of students were able to make.

Josh Beylinson is a sophomore studying Political Science at Pitt. He writes mostly on foreign policy and international news. He also wishes he had a beard. Write to Josh at [email protected]

This column is part of a point-counterpoint series. To read the counterpoint, click here.