MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Best friends and recent Bartlett High School graduates Kristen Gish and Han Mi Ko were part of MTSU’s newest wave of students attending CUSTOMS freshman orientation recently.
Both from Bartlett, Tennessee, near Memphis, and set to be roommates this fall, Gish and Ko were joined by nearly 250 other MTSU Class of 2026 members — part of the summerlong group of more than 3,000 new freshmen and transfer students taking part in orientation through the end of July.
CUSTOMS is the Middle Tennessee State University new student orientation program. CUSTOMS helps new undergraduate students make the transition into the university, prepares them for MTSU's educational opportunities, initiates their integration into the intellectual, cultural and social climate of the institution and shows them the ropes of being an MTSU student.
Starting the college experience
Gish, 17, who plans to major in forensic science, said orientation’s about “learning the ropes of being independent. It’s definitely a good mix about being a bit nervous and excited all at once. I’m looking forward to getting out and learning new things, being on my own.”
Attending with her mother, Amy Swarthout, Gish said she’s “very excited to start my journey into forensic science. I can’t wait to dive into it.”
Gish’s career plans include going into crime scene investigation. After earning her bachelor’s degree in four years, she’s interested in pursuing a master’s and potentially working at The Body Farm, also known as the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The MTSU visit was especially helpful to Ko, who plans to major in early childhood education and who had never been to campus until driving through it with her father, Choung Soo Ko, on May 16 and attending the first freshman orientation on May 17.
“It’s been nice to walk around and see the campus some,” Han Mi Ko said. “Our tour guide explained where we would mostly be on campus, based on our majors.” Her future plans are to teach English in South Korea.
Gina Poff, director of MTSU New Student and Family Programs, said the university’s “excited to bring students and multiple guests to campus. We will be doing pretty intense exploration of what the campus feels like and looks like, so they’ll have a feel for where their classes are going to be.”
Orientation advising and registration will be on campus.
“It’s exciting that the students will be face-to-face with the academic advisers, the registration folks and get their classes,” Poff said. “They will leave CUSTOMS with a schedule in hand.”
Poff said all of MTSU’s resource staff are prepared “to share everything the campus has to offer to aid in student success, to get them to graduation.”
There are 16 one-day freshmen sessions throughout summer. There are CUSTOMS modules they must complete online before coming to campus. Transfer students can do a virtual session or any of three on-campus options for more in-depth interaction with staff, facilities, the college environment and fellow students, Poff said.
Support staff important
Part of the CUSTOMS experience is learning about the various support services throughout campus. They were on full display May 17 with MTSU-branded tents, free food, drinks and music at a midafternoon yard party to provide students with information about numerous campus services.
Amanda Rogers, representing MTSU’s Environmental Health and Safety Office, said her team works on community outreach and water quality awareness for Murfreesboro and “participates in CUSTOMS to let students know we have services.”
Community service opportunities are also available such as “tree planting, partnering with student groups where we create awareness of service projects and community service hours to whoever is interested,” Rogers added. With students coming from different backgrounds, Rogers said, “we usually get around 100 students to sign up at CUSTOMS.”
MTSU alumna Rachel Bruce (Class of 1998), marketing manager for MT Dining, said she enjoys CUSTOMS, adding her role is to “coordinate events for dining halls and schedule meal plans. We want them (incoming students) to understand that freshmen coming on campus can have meal plans and get jobs with us.”
For Bruce, the diversity on MT Dining’s staff makes it successful and reflects the diversity of the incoming freshman classes.
“We had student workers who have joined us from CUSTOMS from different countries, and they help at MT Dining; we have an alumnus with us who is head chef. I try to make my team very diverse; I like diversity, it makes us a better team. That is how you make a successful team,” Bruce said.
Other campus groups represented at the yard party include Campus Life, Housing, and the Student Government Association, among others.
Summer Reading Book
Deb Sells, vice president of Student Affairs and vice provost for enrollment management and enrollment services, discussed the Summer Reading Book, “Walking to Listen … 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time,” by Andrew Forsthoefel, a writer, public speaker and peace activist from Northhampton, Massachusetts.
Copies of the book are available for purchase in Phillips Bookstore in the Student Union.
Sells mentioned Sunday, Aug. 21, as the “first day of class” for the new students. At 1 p.m. in Murphy Center, Convocation — where faculty and administration led by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee will wear academic regalia and Forsthoefel will speak about his journey and challenge them for the next four years of their lives — will be the special event that jumpstarts their academic quests.
“It’s the official beginning of the school year. All incoming freshmen are expected to attend this event,” said Sells, who also invited parents, other family and friends to come. “If you plan to attend their graduation in four years, this is the bookend to that. Convocation is the beginning of their college experience and graduation will be the end of their college experience.”
The annual President’s Picnic will be held on Saturday, Aug. 20.