The first few weeks of life on a new college campus can be among the most exciting in any student’s life. But being exposed to a new learning and social environment, often with the newness of being away from home for the first time, can also prove intimidating. It’s a conflict freshman Julia Buckingham recognized in her first few weeks at Bucknell University. “I was most nervous about making new friends and missing home upon starting college. At home, I already had an established group of friends and everything was familiar, so it was hard to leave that all behind and enter this new environment,” she says.
In her understanding of the experiences students undergo throughout their college life, Barnes & Noble College’s Director of Consumer Marketing, Tamara Vostok, sympathizes. “Through our research and feedback from students, we’ve now gained a clearer understanding of five distinct stages we recognize as the Student Journey, a process where we’re identifying different needs from pre-enrollment, pre-college, to being that new student on campus and on through their college life for four or five years to the final stage of graduation,” she explains.
Vostok says this third phase as a new student, can be especially crucial in that overall journey. “They’re going through the whole transition to college life, and key to making that transition easier is building relationships and finding the right kinds of support,” she says. With its prime function serving as both an academic and social hub for the college campus, it’s particularly at this stage of the student’s journey that the college bookstore is uniquely placed to provide exactly that kind of support when they need it most.
In her role as General Manager of the Barnes & Noble at Texas A&M University bookstore, Holley Scott and her team understand the kinds of support her new students are looking for from their bookstore. “The key for them in that first week on campus is getting plugged in, getting connected and being used to being part of the campus — something bigger,” she explains.
Invariably, the process of familiarizing themselves with the campus and their studies involves asking questions. “A lot of questions!” says Scott. “Whether it’s about the various programs going on around campus or specific questions about their textbooks, it gives us the opportunity to show the whole range of support the bookstore can offer,” she adds. That support is never more evident than at the store’s VIP Night, held during Gig ‘Em Week, the school’s official Week of Welcome.
In a week full of events and outreach opportunities for both new and returning students, the bookstore this year partnered with the college’s Association of Former Students and New Student Family Programs to play an even more integral part in helping this year’s freshmen class to become familiar with the TAMU campus. After yell practice, the new students proceeded to the bookstore where they were greeted by a live band, food and a free t-shirt, before they went on to the stadium for the official Class of 2020 group photograph. “Our VIP night was the perfect opportunity for them to take that time out in a casual atmosphere, shop and meet friends and get their questions answered,” Scott says.
Even some of those students, who had already visited the store during orientation, had a better opportunity during the VIP event to explore the large convenience shop, the 100-seat cafe, an expansive Aggie spirit gear section, and those who’d come to shop, or used their mobile device, benefited from exclusive discounts throughout the store. “VIP Night is just a great vehicle for us to communicate all the benefits the bookstore can offer,” Scott says.
Research has illustrated that events like the VIP Night at TAMU help students overcome those first week jitters, and provide a solid support platform for their subsequent college life. In a national survey of last year’s VIP events, 70 percent of students who responded said the event helped them transition to college more easily, and the bookstore was the place where they met new college friends for the first time.
At a time when college administrators and faculty are particularly challenged by the issue of student retention, the bookstore can play a vital role in helping students feel like they belong, a key motivation in helping students stay in school. Along with her successful VIP program, Scott recognizes the importance of maintaining that support and social involvement for her new students constant throughout their college lives. “We’ll continue that dialogue with them — through our in-store experiences, or our mobile app or social media sites — to help build those relationships and add to their experience,” she says.
And whether that involves having HGTV’s Junk Gypsies and former Aggies, Amie and Jolie Sikes, visit for a book signing, or simply being a resource as the place to get a toothbrush, a favorite sweatshirt or that irresistible Pumpkin Spice Latte in the café, there will be plenty of reasons for students to rely on the bookstore for support throughout their college journey.