Behind the Green Polo: Patriot Leaders Greet New Students
By Buzz McClain
You’ve seen them around because you can’t miss them, in their green Mason polo shirts and 100-watt grins, enthusiastically leading cheers, performing skits, rhyming rap originals, and basically being the most vocal supporters of everything Mason at any given time.
They are the Patriot Leaders, and they may be the 31 most fearless students on campus.
Patriot Leaders are part of the overall Student Leader Team, which also includes a head team of leaders (Leaders of the Leaders, if you will), all of whom are coordinated by the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services headquartered in the HUB. Their mission is to make incoming students—freshman and transfers—and their families feel welcome and to help students prepare for their new college experience.
This year they’re introducing the largest incoming number of students ever to the campus, almost 4,500, meaning they’ll be busier than ever leading discussions about college life, answering questions about the campus, explaining traditions (rub George Mason’s toe for luck?), and teaching the Mason fight song.
It’s not easy earning that green polo. Last November, some 120 students applied to the program, says Stan Heaney, a government and international politics major and a Team Leader, and after a rigorous months-long vetting process, the list was “whittled down to 31 after a six-hour meeting on Valentine’s Day.”
Once the Leaders are in place they begin training in the spring with a class—University 300—followed by meetings with campus representatives from other Mason organizations and colleges. Because the Leaders are deliberately chosen from various majors they need to be brought up to speed on what goes on in other schools and departments. And there are occasional bonding retreats, including this year’s white-water rafting excursion.
And once summer begins, so does Orientation, which will keep many of the Leaders on the move from 6:30 a.m. to after midnight for much of the season.
For their efforts the Leaders receive a $3,000 stipend for the period from May to July and another $400 for their work from August to October, with additional opportunities to make income at other occasions, including out-of-state events. They also get an embroidered backpack, a nametag, and two of those famous green polos, says information technology major Samantha Wettasinghe, another Team Leader.
There may be other green polos on campus, but “we’re the official green polo,” says Leah Quinn, assistant director for Patriot Leader Initiatives. In fact, the Patriot Leader website reflects that claim to fame: GreenPolo.gmu.edu gets you there.
Quinn says attributes they look for when selecting a Patriot Leader go beyond the ability to sing and dance—which are optional, but they each seem capable—but they have to present a genuine interest in helping new students and families feel comfortable in their adjustment. “And they have to relate to people who are different ffrom them; they have to appreciate the diversity of the students and families,” she says. They also need to carry at least a 2.5 GPA and have Friday afternoons free for spring training.
While Mason’s Leaders may be unique on campus, transition services are increasingly common on college campuses throughout the country. Universities began getting serious about transition programs in the early 1970s, says Joyce Holl, executive director of the National Orientation Directors Association based at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
“Most institutions do have a transition program–and they are vital,” Holl says. “They’re a critical part of welcoming incoming students to the environment and helping put parents at ease.”
These days schools are actively expanding their programs with pre-semester “welcome weeks” and retreats, and Holl notes that most other campuses have orientation leaders akin to Mason’s Patriot Leaders.
At Mason, Orientation events focus on three areas, according to Sally Lorentson, director of Mason’s Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services.
“We want the make sure the student is academically ready,” says Lorentson. “[The new students] meet their advisors so they know what to expect in coming semesters.”
The Orientation programming also works to connect the newest Patriots with their fellow students–in small groups and with a variety of social programs.
During the two information-packed days, families also are guided through the “emotional process of letting go,” Lorentson says. “And not just for freshman families, but also for transferring students. It can be difficult for them, too.”
Not all those who go through Orientation are Mason students, she points out. Some attendees are prospective students who are still undecided as to what school to attend and have come to Mason to check things out.
“They attend Orientations to get a better sense of what things are like at the school, and what will be the best fit for them,” Lorentson says.
The final focus of the Orientation programming is to build Patriot Pride.
“We build the spirit of Mason,” says Lorentson. “When [the new students] walk away from Orientation, they realize they’ll bleed green and gold.”
To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.