At any moment, their job can morph from mentor to entertainer to motivational speaker to mother hen.
They’re the Tyler Junior College Apache Chiefs, and they are key players in TJC’s New Student Orientation program.
NSO is a summer-long series of two-day sessions mostly for incoming freshmen but also for students transferring to TJC from other schools. Each session has about 200 new students in attendance.
The 24 Apache Chiefs serve as TJC ambassadors all year long, but it’s during the summer NSO sessions that they’re at their busiest.
The Chiefs, who are usually either rising TJC sophomores or recent graduates, help new students get acquainted with the campus, assist with guiding them through the registration process, and stay in the residence halls with NSO participants who are staying overnight.
“You really have to be on your toes all the time,” said Jazzimine Crist, a sophomore music major from Rusk. Crist attends TJC on the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise Scholarship. She is a member of Harmony & Understanding vocal jazz group and works as a student assistant in the TJC business office.
After graduation, she plans to transfer to a four-year institution and study music and music production.
Crist said being a Chief has taught her not just about helping new students transition to college, it has also served as an introduction to “adulting” and provided a few a-ha moments for the Chiefs themselves.
“You have to learn to fluctuate, because things almost never go as planned,” she said. “Plus, Mommy and Daddy aren’t here, so you have to think for yourself and learn to deal with things in an adult situation.”
Her fellow Chief Lily Lemus agrees.
“I’ve never been in an organization where you’re in charge of students and communicating with them on this level,” she said. Lemus, a biology major from Van and a member of Phi Theta Kappa, graduated from TJC in May and will transfer to Texas Tech in the fall.
“As I was going through my script on how I was going to introduce myself to my group (of new students), I noticed that I was trying to speak like I was superior to them. But we’re all on the same level; so instead of trying to act like I was over them, I just relaxed and was able to better relate to them.”
In addition to putting new students at ease, the Apache Chiefs also help calm the nerves of parents who might also need a bit of reassurance as their child goes off to college.
“Usually, one of the first things parents ask us is how their student can get involved on campus,” said Yemile Flores, a sophomore communications major from Lindale. Flores, who is in the Presidential Honors Program, will graduate in December and transfer to UT Tyler.
“We tell them we were in their child’s shoes just a year ago, and they can see we’re happy and doing great; so I think it helps them feel more comfortable.”
What does it take to be a TJC Apache Chief?
“Members are selected through a formal interview process during the fall semester,” said Murphy Turner, TJC coordinator of new student and family programs. “They are required to submit a résumé and a letter of recommendation from a TJC faculty or staff member.”
The roster is announced before the students leave for winter break in December.
“I look for leaders who want to serve others and give back to the college and the community,” Turner said. “A good applicant will be an effective communicator, teachable, and a leader both in and out of the classroom.”
In January, training begins in earnest when the newly appointed Apache Chiefs return for the spring semester.
“Throughout the spring, we meet with Murphy to learn the ice-breakers – exercises in getting to know each other – and learn how to communicate and answer questions about the campus and how everything works,” said Kendall Land.
Land, of Mount Vernon, graduated in May with a general studies degree. She will transfer to UT Tyler in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business management. She was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and worked on campus as an assistant in the anatomy labs.
“Then, in the intensive training leading up to orientation, we take all of the information we learned and add in all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that no one else sees but that makes it all run smoothly,” she said. “There’s a schedule we give to the students, then there’s our schedule that has every single minute planned out.”
“I was honestly surprised at the workload that was involved behind the scenes,” said Ebony Griffin, sophomore biology major from Rusk. Griffin attends TJC on a Presidential Honors Scholarship. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and works in the TJC rec center.
“Coming to orientation as a freshman last year, on the outside looking in, I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s cool. They’re dancing on stage, and leading all of the fun stuff. I want to do that.’ But knowing now what it takes to be a Chief and make everything presentable and making sure everything runs smoothly and the schedule is on time? It’s a lot of hard work. That was the biggest eye-opener for me.”
Hard work pays off
The Apache Chiefs’ months of preparation and hard work are rewarded through the impact they make on their new fellow TJC students.
“During one of the orientations, I went up to one of the students who was sitting outside and asked her how it was going and if she was having fun,” Griffin said. “She talked about how she had looked at two other colleges, and she said, ‘But I came here and immediately felt a sense of community. The way you take the time out to connect with us and help us, I really feel like TJC will be my second home because I know I can’t get that anywhere else.’
“When you hear someone say that, without even prompting it, it makes all of the hard work worth it. So, now my goal for every orientation is to work hard and hear a student say something like that. She made my day, and she didn’t even know it.”
Turner couldn’t be prouder of his Chiefs.
“The 2017 Apache Chiefs have set the mark high for future teams,” he said. “They were recognized at the regional level by the Nation Orientation Directors Association for their service and school spirit, and they completed more than 225 service hours as an organization during the spring semester.
“These are some of the best students that I have ever met, and the college should be proud of the work they’re doing.”
For more on the TJC Apache Chiefs, go to www.tjc.edu/chiefs.