Point-Counterpoint | Good riddance to PittStart


Emily Wolfe | Contributing Editor

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

By Grace McGinness, Staff Columnist

Ding dong, PittStart is finally dead. This coming academic year will be the first year that first-years will move onto campus without having been forced to attend the overrated overnight orientation to Pitt’s campus.

Up until this summer, the program was mandatory for incoming first-years. PittStart was a required two-day stay on Pitt’s campus offered on several select dates before school started in August. It was meant to familiarize new students with the Central Oakland neighborhood, help them connect with other incoming students and give them a taste of life at Pitt.

But while some Pitt students are lamenting the loss of the program, others were not so in love with it in the first place. While the intentions of the former orientation program appeared well-meaning on paper, the program was redundant, inconvenient and unhelpful.

At my PittStart, I recall being held hostage in an overcrowded computer lab in the basement of the Cathedral with one person helping nearly 30 students figure out their fall schedule.

The program was used to corner anyone who had yet to register for classes in the fall. We were barred from participating in any other activities until our class schedules were solidified — something we ought to have had more time determining and that could have been accomplished in the comfort of our own homes.

Many other activities held during the program seemed redundant, as there were plenty of outside opportunities for students to learn about college student life. The University has a mandatory online training platform that teaches students how to schedule their courses, recognize alcohol abuse and manage student loans. Welcome Week, the early move-in week set aside specifically for first-years in August, also offers workshops, roundtables and tours. None of these are themselves a bad idea, but any information I gained at PittStart could have just as easily been gained during O-Week, which Pitt is now referring to as Welcome Week.

Students like rising sophomore Patrick Mizzoni agree that PittStart felt like a waste of time.

“They should’ve just [added] the same activities to orientation week,” Mizzoni said. “The travel for slightly unnecessary events was just annoying.”

Of Pitt’s student body, 75.8% are not originally from the Pittsburgh area. Pitt also has a sizable out-of-state student population with about 27% of students registering from other U.S. states and territories. Even a trip in from Ohio can be well over a three-hour trip, which is far enough to make attendance to the program difficult to schedule for the few, select weeks that the event was held.

While students were offered the option of residing in the Litchfield Towers dormitory for an authentic college experience, their families would have to pay for a hotel as they idle around for two days. Not only did PittStart consume time, it forced additional expenditure from families who already agreed to pay tens of thousands of dollars for their child’s education.

Students like rising junior Hayley Denwood agree that programs like PittStart aren’t accessible for everyone.

“We can’t afford random nights in a hotel and gas money for a multiple hour drive, but we didn’t have a choice,” the neuroscience and psychology major said in an email.

And since students have already agreed to come to Pitt by the time summer rolls around, there’s no need to hype them up about campus life three months in advance. Once the brief excitement of PittStart ended, it would be several weeks, sometimes months before students could return to see any friends made during the event and explore the campus further. This made the program reductive and ill-timed on top of being a waste of time and money.

And while some people may form lasting friendships, more likely than not the trip results in an awkward night spent in a Pitt dorm with a total stranger and completing icebreakers with people you promise to meet up for coffee with in the fall but never actually do. It can be hard to create a lasting connection when you’re too busy trying to soak up as much as you can from a brief glance at the surface of the City and a set of workshops teaching information that could have been part of an email.

Some students felt the whole event to be a bit aimless. Rising sophomore economics major Noah Feder had to travel to PittStart from upstate New York.

“It was obvious that the University had good intentions, but I found it not to be worth the eight-hour drive,” Feder said. “I didn’t really feel like I knew the campus all that well afterwards either.”

As a two-day event, PittStart was offered little flexibility and was too short for floundering students to actually orient themselves like intended. Presence is mandatory, but participation in many of the workshops was voluntary. The only required part was enrollment into fall courses. This strange set-up sent mixed signals as to the importance of PittStart as a whole and rendered the required expenses for attendance wasteful.

Lauren Cox is a rising sophomore at Pitt who attended PittStart with high hopes, but left disappointed.

“It was a big waste of time for me. I didn’t meet anyone nor did I find it helpful. I had already created my schedule and been to Admitted Students’ Day, so it was all the same stuff,” she said.

What PittStart offered wasn’t totally flawed, but it wasn’t for everyone. Pitt finally made some changes last year and introduced Panther Connect, which is exactly like PittStart, except it’s entirely voluntary.

Not everyone has the time, money and interest in getting a glimpse at Pitt’s campus a couple months early — having the option to opt-in is far better than having the inability to opt-out.

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