What It’s Like ... to Start College at Rollins

From settling into dorm life to the first day of class, get a sneak peek at the first week at Rollins through the eyes of first-year student Donayja Gates ’22.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

A graduate of the medical program at Orlando’s Jones High School, where she was captain of the softball team and a member of the National Honor Society, Donayja Gates ’22 is one of three first-year students to earn the inaugural Rosen Scholarship at Rollins. Funded by Central Florida hotelier and philanthropist Harris Rosen, the full-ride scholarship allows students from the Tangelo Park and Parramore neighborhoods to attain their dreams of achieving a college education debt-free.

The giganticness of large schools scares me, so in the spring, when I got the call that I had been accepted to Rollins, I was so happy to be part of a small, close-knit campus where I could build relationships with my professors.

With my first week behind me, I’m absolutely loving college life. But I was nervous at first—so many questions!

Even though I had grown up just a few miles down the road, it felt like I was a world away when my parents dropped me off at McKean Hall.

Donayja Gates ’22 got a jump-start on her Rollins journey through the Embark program, a cohort-based development opportunity for students of underrepresented backgrounds. Photo by Scott Cook. Donayja Gates ’22 got a jump-start on her Rollins journey through the Embark program, a cohort-based development opportunity for students of underrepresented backgrounds. Photo by Scott Cook.

That feeling didn’t last long, though, because right away I started Embark, a pre-orientation program that introduces you to other students, professors, and what it’s like to be at Rollins—and it’s exactly what I needed.

We were together all day, from morning to dinner, doing icebreakers, team-building exercises, personality games—even a breakfast at the president’s house and a karaoke night. A lot of us couldn’t sing or rap, but we all went up there and had a blast anyway. Maybe the best thing was just having a friendly, welcoming place to express myself without fear of judgment.

During Embark, I also met my faculty advisor, Professor of Anthropology Rachel Newcomb, and my peer mentors, Sarah Dossey ’19 and Cameron Robinson ’20. They really helped me acclimate to campus life, from settling into my dorm to just providing emotional support and pointing me in the right direction.

Whether it was jumping right into class discussions during her Rollins College Conference (RCC) course or laying sod at the Hope CommUnity Center on SPARC Day, Donayja Gates ’22 is already making the most of her #RollinsLife. Photos by Scott Cook. Whether it was jumping right into class discussions during her Rollins College Conference (RCC) course or laying sod at the Hope CommUnity Center on SPARC Day, Donayja Gates ’22 is already making the most of her #RollinsLife. Photos by Scott Cook.

For SPARC Day, my group went to the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, where we laid sod and pulled weeds. At Hope, undocumented people can receive help with things like finding work, learning English, and learning how to become a U.S. citizen. To personalize the plight of immigrants, we heard from a Rollins student who shared what happened when she came to the U.S.

On the first day of class, I got those butterflies again because I already had an assignment due—or at least I thought I did. To my relief, I had actually done it a day in advance. The professor then went over the subject in detail, so that definitely calmed my nerves.

I’m always up for a challenge, so I’m taking six courses this semester. My favorite is my RCC (Rollins College Conference) with Professor Newcomb—Mind, Body, Culture. How the world views the body and the mind intrigues me, and I find myself digging deeper and deeper with each assignment. The open discussions are great, and Professor Newcomb keeps everyone engaged in class.

Donayja Gates ’22 participated in SPARC Day by helping lay sod and pull weeds at the Hope CommUnity Center, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of Central Florida's immigrant and working poor communities. Photo by Scott Cook. Donayja Gates ’22 participated in SPARC Day by helping lay sod and pull weeds at the Hope CommUnity Center, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of Central Florida's immigrant and working poor communities. Photo by Scott Cook.

Looking forward, one of my goals is to figure out what I want to major in and to find my passion. I also want to succeed in my classes, and I think Rollins will help me figure out who I am as a person through all the different activities on campus. I’ve already joined the Black Student Union, and I plan to walk on to the softball team in the spring.

Regardless of where the future takes me, I don’t feel like I’m going it alone. Having a lot of amazing new friends, as well as the support of Rollins faculty and staff, makes all the difference.