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Make friends, try adventure on a Hatter Trek

Whitewater rafting and horseback riding were part of this past summer's Tennessee Hatter Trek.

Coming from the beaches of Florida’s west coast, first-year student Nick Kemick liked the idea of traveling to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee as part of Stetson University’s Hatter Trek summer program.

“It was a setting I wasn’t used to,” said Kemick, a Political Science major from Bradenton, Fla.”Plus, I got to meet and become close to about 30 people from Stetson, and I made some good friends and found a great roommate (Tim Kile).”

The Hatter Trek program is a four-day adventure designed exclusively for First Year Students, offered the summer before the freshman year. This past summer was the second year for the program, and there were three Treks – to the Florida Keys, DeLand, and Tennessee. The trips offer a combination of fun, high-adventure activities, team-building exercises, volunteer opportunities, and leadership games.

Hatter Treks welcome the new class to Stetson by giving incoming students an opportunity to make friends, meet faculty and set a vision for their first year. The goal is that, through Hatter Trek, students become part of the Stetson family even before classes begin.

“The best part was watching students make connections that will last a lifetime,” said Lindsey Bishop, graduate assistant for First Year and Transition Programs, who staffed the Trek in DeLand.

The student groups were accompanied by student mentors from the FOCUS orientation team, faculty members Andy Dehnart, Mark Powell and Nancy Barber of the English Department, and staff members from the Campus Life and Student Success division.

“Hatter Treks represent what I love best about Stetson: getting to know students inside and outside the classroom,” said Powell, who attended the Florida Keys trip. “There’s a different, and stronger kind of bond that comes from attending a smaller university, and most definitely a deeper and stronger bond that comes sharing a Hatter Trek.”

“As with any great experience, what I cherish seems odd and random to anyone not there,” Powell said. “But fluffing mulch, dodging owls and eating Jackfruit will always have a special place in my heart. So too will the wonderful future Hatters I got to know over four sweaty and joyous days.”

Seeing participants’ enthusiasm and openness to a new experience was rewarding, said Trek student mentor Mike Martella.

“The impact the DeLand Hatter Trek had on my group was unbelievable,” said another student mentor, Garrett Franklin. “They bonded more than I ever thought they could. It’s like they found their new best friends after the first hour of meeting each other. It made them more comfortable and welcomed when they started school in the fall.”

Like Kemick, first-year student Raisa Santiesteban chose the Tennessee trip because horseback riding and whitewater rafting in the mountains sounded like a fun change of pace. She ended up making two dozen great friends, most of whom she still hangs out with now that she’s started her freshman year.

“It was the best thing I did all summer, and it was really awesome getting to school and already having friends,” said Santiesteban, an international business student from Key Largo, Fla. “It made the transition (to college) much easier.”

First Year and Transition Programs plan to expand Hatter Trek to even more incoming students in the summer of 2013.

“Go on a Hatter Trek!” Franklin advises future incoming students. “It will give you the experience of a lifetime, and you could possibly meet your best friend there. I guarantee you will feel more comfortable about starting college!”

By Cindi Brownfield

Stetson University Marketing