College can be overwhelming for incoming students, with more people, more choices and more responsibility. To help transform a student’s introduction to the Arizona State University experience from potentially intimidating to absolutely energizing, the ASU Alumni Association has crafted its Sun Devil Send-Offs, a yearly series of more than 30 summer gatherings in cities across the country.
It’s a cross between a mini pep rally and a maroon-and-gold lovefest, and for many new ASU families, it provides all the confirmation they need that they made the right choice when their child decided to become a Sun Devil.
ASU has sponsored welcoming events like the send-offs for decades, but once the association got involved in the late 2000s, the organization tapped its coast-to-coast network of alumni chapters and clubs to serve a broad cross-section of first-year students — incoming freshmen, international students and transfer students from community colleges.
According to Eddie DeVall, Class of 1993 and president of the Los Angeles alumni chapter, the send-offs are as much for the student’s parents as they are for the student.
“We serve as a local connection if the student or family has a question and needs assistance,” he said. “Parents and family members are welcome to attend our alumni events to further connect them to the ASU family while their student is on campus.”
Send-off event venues range from houses and city parks to alumni-owned restaurants and, in one memorable instance, a car museum. Kevin Tomkins, Class of '93 and a send-off host in the Los Angeles area, invites students, their families and local alumni to his house, which includes an impressive collection of ASU memorabilia, including Sun Devil tents, banners and an ASU-branded golf cart.
“My wife, daughter and I have been doing ASU Send-Offs at our home in Arcadia for the past 10 years. I have pictures of my daughter starting at age 6, when she would wear an ASU cheerleading outfit to greet people, to today when she is about ready to begin her own college journey,” he said. “We provide the food, the house and a very festive environment.”
Student attendance can range from a handful of ASU hopefuls to dozens in larger areas, such as Los Angeles (which hosts three Sun Devil Send-Offs most years) or Orange County, California. Sherry Brooks, Class of '89, has overseen send-offs in Orange County both as a chapter leader and a site host. She said her chapter now holds its Send-Off in a community clubhouse.
“We have found that morning events work best for our community, and we serve breakfast burritos, fruit, muffins, juice and coffee,” she said. “ Attendees have a chance to mingle and chat. Then we separate the students and parents. The students get a chance to meet one another in a smaller setting, and the parents have a chance to ask questions of chapter leaders and alums.”
That Q&A time is a vital component for most send-offs, according to the chapter members and hosts who lead them. Students and their families can find out everything from move-in/move-out procedures and how to register for classes to how to make the most of their time at the university. Alumni often have a lot to say about that last question, said Jim Shaughnessy, Class of '72, who has hosted send-offs for the Greater Philadelphia chapter at his home in Paoli, Pennsylvania.
“Alumni often share stories of opportunity,” he said. “[They advise students to] make your ASU experience what you want it to be.”
DeVall added, “The biggest piece of advice I hear at send-offs each year is to get involved in a club or organization. That helps make immediate connections for a student once they are on campus, which can build their resume and make the campus seem smaller.”
Alumni say the send-offs play a crucial role in making a new Sun Devil’s transition to ASU a smooth one. Brooks called the events “an important step in becoming a Sun Devil.”
“Sending a student to college — especially out of state — is a scary experience,” she said. “I think the send-offs make the large ASU community feel much smaller. It helps to have questions answered and the students like knowing that they will recognize someone from home on campus.”
Shaughnessy, who played football under Coach Frank Kush, encouraged new ASU families to attend a nearby send-off for both practical and spirit-boosting reasons.
“Make time for this special event,” Shaughnessy said. “ You will get spoiled by all the Sun Devil love, and you will learn many behind-the-scenes tips for surviving and thriving.”
To learn more about the Sun Devil Send-Offs series, or to register for an event near you, visit https://alumni.asu.edu/events/send-offs.
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