Though exhausting, freshman orientation season is off to a positive start thanks to its orientation leaders and increased focus on technology.

This summer, students from all over the country are visiting UT for what may be their first real taste of the college experience. Throughout June and July, more than 4,300 new Vols will come through in 16, two-day sessions. Averaging about 270 students per session, the orientation leaders stay busy during their 18-hour days.

Most students have enjoyed the seemingly unending energy of the orientation leaders, but at least one student grumbled about the 7:30 a.m. start.

"It was way too early, I wish they had pushed it back about an hour," incoming freshman and business analytics major Bob Pierson said.

The early wake-up call is necessary for the students to complete their heavily scheduled day. Students are introduced to many of the services and student organizations offered on campus based on their own designated interests.

"I was surprised at all the free services on campus, like the tutoring center and the writing lab," Pierson said, adding that the services may come in handy. "English is definitely not my strength."

Laura Lauder, another incoming freshman, said she considered the program good preparation for the real college experience approaching in August. She said she would have liked more time to get ready for her first day.

"Meeting with my advisor was the most helpful, but I wish we were allowed time to go to a computer lab to build our schedule as well," she said.

Lauder's sentiment reflects Paige Philips' own assessment of orientation. As the associate director of new student and family programming, Philips said the program's greatest asset lies in the assimilation of incoming freshman into the campus community.

"I think the most beneficial thing about orientation is that... you can just get a really good snapshot of the university in one location and in one time," Phillips said. "You get to take care of any business you might have, you get to meet other incoming students, other upper class students... it's just a really big picture of the university."

Philips added that although orientation is not required for freshman, it is strongly recommended for a variety of reasons, and those who attend but skip sessions only hurt themselves.

"What I like to say is that orientation is like your first class, so when I see someone who has not been attending sessions, I take them aside and ask if this is how they are going to approach their classes," she said.

This year, orientation has integrated more technology into the program. Dante Arnwine, an orientation leader and rising junior in political science and public administration, said the integration has been highly beneficial.

"A big difference this year is that we have digitized much of the process," he said. "This year we're using electronic check-in, so that makes it a whole lot easier."

Orientation leader Austin Shelton, rising junior in sports management, agreed on the increased technology and its impact on the programming.

"I feel like we are using technology to make it a more personal situation," he said. "We're using Twitter a lot more this year than we were, and #utk17 was trending nationally, so that was a pretty big deal... That's a big step for the future of Orientation for us and other programs."

For Shelton, the personal touch that Twitter affords corresponds well with his own commitment to pay each incoming freshman individual attention. Although each pair of leaders has a group of 20 students, Shelton said he tries to get to know them on a personal basis.

"I try to ... remember their name, and encourage them to stay in touch; and if they have any questions at any time to feel free to ask any of us," he said.

When summer ends, planning for next summer's orientation begins in earnest. Orientation Leaders are picked in the fall semester and take a class in the spring to prepare them for the long hours that the process requires. However, all involved participate as a labor of love, no matter the energy required and how exhausted they might feel.

"We look to each other for encouragement and the extra drive to keep us going throughout the day... It's one of those things that if you're passionate enough about it, and that you want to do it, you're going to make yourself do it no matter how tired you are," Shelton said. "That and a lot of coffee helps."