By Becky Aubut
DARTMOUTH, Mass. — In only a few weeks, UMass Dartmouth will be opening its doors and shining a light on academics, but incoming students can connect with his or her Spiritual light with NOVUS, a two-day gathering of first-year students and upperclassmen peer ministers at the campus’ Newman House.
For those peer ministers leading NOVUS, his or her work began earlier in the year when they applied to CorsairWORKS, a peer minister leadership-training program.
CorsairWORKS came about through “the nature of the Church as told by the Second Vatican Council is to be missionary by nature,” said Father David Frederici, chaplain of campus ministry, who added the idea is to try to get students involved in their catechetical faith early on in their college experience to build relationships on campus.
“It’s not just about an email blast or running an ad on TV screens around campus; it’s first and foremost relational, making the connections that way, before the semester begins,” said Father Frederici. “Peers are much more effective in forming those relationships than Deacon Frank [Lucca] or myself would be.”
Eight students were accepted into this year’s CorsairWORKS, and after a preliminary meeting this past spring before school ended, the real training will begin during a retreat held a week before school starts. Peer ministers will move in Tuesday, a week before they would normally move in, and Wednesday they will head to the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham to spend almost three days preparing to help lead first-year students who are taking part in NOVUS.
“NOVUS is open to first-year students, whether they are residents or commute to campus,” said Deacon Lucca, campus minister. “They arrive on the Friday evening around 5 p.m. Once CorsairWORKS wraps up, those peer ministers then conduct NOVUS, which begins on that Friday evening and runs until Sunday evening.”
NOVUS will offer tools to incoming students on how to live out a faith-filled life on campus, and offer guidance and advice regarding life in general and help incoming students to adjust to campus life.
“Once they go through NOVUS, as part of their service project — and we do a number of service projects — they assist the freshmen on Sunday with their move-in,” said Deacon Lucca.
NOVUS does not end there; the students will meet with peer ministers once a week for the next five weeks for the “Freshmen Five,” and in those meetings there’s prayer and general discussions about campus life.
“We hope that helps solidify their support on campus,” said Deacon Lucca.
As established students guide incoming students, “they can certainly relate to the new students better than we can,” said Father Frederici, and peer ministers can offer resources to the student along with sharing their faith with others in a friendly, non-proselytizing way.
Having that connection will help an incoming student’s transition from high school to college and allow each student “to nurture their own faith and to challenge themselves to grow in faith so they don’t become complacent, and at the same time teach them ways to facilitate, for example, create a small Christian community, a Scripture study, how to plan an activity where there’s a social event or even a retreat,” said Father Frederici.
“When I first came to UMass,” added Father Frederici, “I had been working in a community college which had a whole different rhythm, so when I came to UMass, we’d be losing students because during conversations we’d discover the transition was so difficult — they’d have all these dreams and hopes of what college was like — it was a total change in everything and in their way of life, it created anxiety and they weren’t expecting that.
“Sometimes they would interpret that anxiety, as they don’t belong here or in college, and by the time we’d find out about it, they’d already made the decision to transfer out or given up on college. To help make that transition to campus, we have stories of peer students who have been able to reach out to a student during that transition and keep them involved in campus and we didn’t lose them.”
There is no cost to participate in NOVUS. For first-year students interested in enrolling, go to www.UMassDCatholics.com, or email Father Frederici at firstname.lastname@example.org or Deacon Lucca at email@example.com.