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Seeing SOAR through the lens of a UW photographer and soon-to-be Badger parent

August 8, 2023 By Althea Dotzour

At right, Althea Dotzour, a photographer with University Communications, walks to the academic advising session with her son, incoming first-year student Andrew Dotzour. Photo: Althea Dotzour

In a large conference room, parents and guests of incoming first-year students are invited to close their eyes and imagine what their student will be like four years in the future when they graduate. In the stillness of that moment, some of the worries and excitement of the moment fade, and a hopeful calm settles in. Parents call out in clear voices their hopes that their children grow to be mature, responsible and happy. That they know themselves better. That they are kind to their parents.

Last week, I was one of those parents of a soon-to-be Badger when I attended SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising and Registration). Since I also work as a photographer at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I took those fresh parent feelings and photographed a subsequent session of SOAR to highlight a few perspectives from SOAR staff, parents and guests, and the students themselves.

New student leaders and peer advisors

At center, new student leader and second-year transfer student Diego Martinez leads a small group of incoming first-year students in conversations and ice breaker games during at Union South. Photo: Althea Dotzour

During my experience at SOAR, I was particularly impressed with the energy and the thoughtfulness of the student workers. I spoke to undergraduate student Diego Martinez, a second-year transfer student who works as a new student leader, and here’s what he told me about his experience.

Diego Martinez transferred to UW–Madison in January 2023. He aspires to be a teacher and says that leading a “small group of 20 students is where I thrive.” Photo: Althea Dotzour

“I transferred [to UW] from Florida, and I moved to Madison in January of this year for the spring semester. I got into a job in the Transfer Transition Program, and my boss Shelby Knuth was like, ‘Hey, if you’re looking for a summer job, there’s the [SOAR] New Student Leader position, which I think you’d be great at.’

“I enjoy the small evening groups where we have like 20 students. We tell them a little bit about campus safety, but mostly we get to talk about our experience. They get to ask all the questions that they need to be asked. We help to make sure that their advising goes well, that their move-in goes well, that their first semester at Madison is a good experience. I want to be a teacher, and having that small group of 20 students is where I thrive.”

Second from left, new student leader Anna Kurhajec leads a small group of incoming first-year students in conversations and ice breaker games. Photo: Althea Dotzour

At center, Pythagoras Carayannopoulos from Winchester, Massachusetts, gets help from two peer advisors in the College of Engineering as he registers for his first semester of classes. Photo: Althea Dotzour

Parents and guests

At center, incoming first-year student Jai Skoglind, from Madison, receives a backpack full of orientation information while his father, Paul Skoglind, receives a clear tote with information for parents and guests. Photo: Althea Dotzour

I observed lots of proud, wistful looks on the parents’ and guests’ faces as they walked around campus with their students. Here’s a bit of what I heard.

At left, Karen Rech, a parent from Oronoco, Minnesota, shares ice cream and talks with her son, incoming first-year student Ben Grogg. Photo: Althea Dotzour

Karen Rech, a parent from Oronoco, Minnesota, said, “It’s my first SOAR. My oldest [who is now a senior] didn’t have in-person SOAR because it was COVID.  It’s nice to have the direct connection rather than just trying to figure it all out online. This time is full of transitions, and I’m nostalgic. In a few years, it’ll be just in the rearview mirror. But right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

At left, Vania Aquino (left), a parent from Belmont, California, talks about her hopes for her daughter, incoming first-year student Anna Passos (right). Photo: Althea Dotzour

Vania Aquino, a parent from Belmont, Calif., said, “I think my daughter is ready [for college] because we raised her to be out and just to fly. That makes me feel very calm.

“She’s excited to move. She’s going to see if she can get a certificate in Portuguese language. She lived in Brazil when she was 5 to 9 years old.  I am kind of putting more fire in her so she can get more of her culture. I’m glad that she can get the opportunity to take language here.  We can’t wait to see what she’s going to do. I think she’s ready. So I’m more happy than sad.”

Incoming first-year students

At center, Ethan Race from Osceola, Wisconsin, smiles along with fellow incoming first-year students during an ice breaker game. Photo: Althea Dotzour

The first night of SOAR, I overheard two students who were friending each other on Snapchat say, “If you’re ever sitting around and don’t know what to do, I’m probably also sitting around and don’t know what to do —  so reach out!” Through ice breakers, small group conversations and games at the Nick, I saw students start to relax and friendships begin.

On the second day of SOAR, students met with their academic advisors and picked out their classes for their first semester at UW–Madison.

Eugene Seo, an incoming first-year student from Cypress, California, is interested in studying kinesiology. Photo: Althea Dotzour

Eugene Seo from Cypress, California, spoke to me and said, “This is my first time in Wisconsin on campus. It’s really big and the dynamic is awesome. I did my advising with the School of Education where I’m trying to major in kinesiology. They recommended all the classes and courses I should take in order to fulfill that major. It’s just overall really helpful. I thought it’d be a long and complicated process, but no, it went really smoothly. “The peer advisors helped me and said taking a First-year Interest Group (FIG) would really be beneficial. So, I signed up for FIG 48: Plants and Human Well-being with Professor Irwin Goldman. I’m really looking forward to this place.”

Anna Passos (second from left) from Belmont, California, and Richa Dasgupta (third from left), from Pavilion, Nebraska, pick up information about the Multicultural Student Center. Photo: Althea Dotzour

Lisa Blum (right), academic advisor with the College of Letters & Science honors program, speaks with Zoe Zoller, an incoming first-year student from Williston, Vermont. Photo: Althea Dotzour

These next years will bring opportunities and challenges that will create the path that students take to grow into the people they will be at graduation. The support of SOAR helped me as a parent feel more oriented, as if the first steps into the unknown are illuminated. We are ready to start the journey.