This fall, as the Frank Gehry-designed science library took shape on Washington Road, Princeton opened its first four-year residential colleges (see PAW, July 18, 2007, click here), and the University prepared to welcome freshmen at Opening Exercises, it was strange to open the PAW dated Sept. 25, 1907, and read of what was making news exactly one century ago. Construction of a new science building! The report on the address of the University president (Woodrow Wilson 1879) to freshmen! A grand plan, later to be rejected, for residential colleges (read PAW’s 1907 coverage on PAW Online)!

Some things, however, do change. Today, even before freshmen arrive on campus, they are expected to take a three-hour online course designed to educate them about alcohol use. The goal of the course is to “help you make well-informed decisions about alcohol and to help you cope with the drinking behavior of your peers,” University officials told the students in a letter. The program has been offered to all freshmen since 2003 (a course for parents was added this summer), but has taken on added urgency since the alcohol-related death of a student at nearby Rider University this year. Three students have been charged in connection with that death.

The program, AlcoholEdu, streams audio and video and includes case studies and interactive exercises, explains Gina Baral, Princeton’s director of health promotion and wellness services. For example, students can estimate how much alcohol it would take to make them drunk, and then can see how that changes by weight, gender, and other conditions. They also can imagine how they might cope with pressure to drink from new friends. Does it work? In a follow-up survey, 34 percent of students who completed the course said they knew “very much” about the effects of alcohol — not an overwhelming response, but better than the 14 percent who said that before taking the course. Baral stresses that the course is only one part of the University’s program to prevent alcohol abuse.

Another rite of September is freshman bonding. Participation in Outdoor Action’s camping trips grew 12 percent this year, to 647 students, the largest group ever. Director Rick Curtis ’79 attributes the gain to a generous new financial aid program. Meanwhile, 115 freshmen were working and living in poor communities as part of Community Action’s service program. For some of the students, service work is “their athletics; they’ve started and run projects since high school,” notes director David Brown. One highlight is known as Professors’ Night, when faculty and staff members travel to the community sites for an evening in which academia meets real life.

PAW will report on these programs, and others that herald the beginning of a new school year, in later fall issues. Welcome back!