Letters for Lakers delivers welcoming messages

GVL / Sara Carte
Grand Valley student, Brenden McGuire, shares a piece of his advice with the student body at the Letters to Lakers sticky note exhibit in the Atrium level of the Mary Idema Pew Library on Thursday, September 10, 2015.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte Grand Valley student, Brenden McGuire, shares a piece of his advice with the student body at the Letters to Lakers sticky note exhibit in the Atrium level of the Mary Idema Pew Library on Thursday, September 10, 2015.

Daniel Goubert

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Though fall classes may mean many emails for Grand Valley State University students, a new exhibit at the Mary Idema Pew Library is offering physical letters and postcards to let students connect with those back home, as well as those in their new home away from home.

The “Letters for Lakers” exhibit, located in the Gary and Joyce DeWitt Exhibition Space on the library’s atrium level, covers the room’s typically bare glass walls with colorful envelopes. Each envelope contains one of 50 different letters collected from GVSU students, alumni, staff or faculty, including one letter from GVSU President Thomas J. Haas and his wife Marcia Haas.

The exhibit was co-developed by First Year Initiative coordinator Emily Frigo and library program manager Erin Fisher, who collected the letters with Kristen Meyer. They reached contributors in person, as well as through University Communications, social media, email and the Alumni Association in an effort that began last winter.

Frigo explained that, although the exhibit is open to all students, the letters contain encouraging words and advice written specifically with first year and transfer students in mind.

“Research shows that in the first couple weeks of the school year, homesickness can set in,” Frigo said. “So I thought, ‘what’s a way we can counter that and help remind people that they’re welcome here?’”

Despite the focus on new students, Fisher said specific letters still spoke to her as a staff member.

“My favorite [letter] is from an alumni,” Fisher said. “She said something like, ‘life is rarely ever a straight line, so embrace the angles.’ It’s so poignant and beautiful, but it’s a very short piece of advice.”

The envelopes on the walls include instructions encouraging visitors to take a letter to keep as a souvenir. Alongside the letters, the exhibit offers additional ways to interact. A wall of colored Post-It notes allows visitors to affix inspiring notes of their own. A nearby stack of custom stationary and a pair of mailboxes lets visitors address meaningful messages to their future selves, which the library will later send to the writer’s email address.

“This is a formal space; we wanted to kind of contrast that,” Frigo said. “We did specifically choose letters, because it’s a bit of nostalgia. We’re inundated with so many things nowadays that a personal note from someone (is something) we don’t often get.”

The mail motif is completed by a series of complimentary, nautical-themed postcards that visitors can send to friends and family. The cards were designed by Linnea Gish, a GVSU art and design major, and were illustrated to resemble postage stamps. They feature images of fishing bears, sailor seagulls and more.

Though the beginning of class has slowed visitation to the exhibit, Fisher said she has still seen first-year students making use of the exhibit.

“There were two groups of students who came in independent of each other,” Fisher said. “They struck up a conversation amongst each other, then they all left together, and went to explore the rest of the library. That was exactly what we had hoped to happen: that the space could create a sense of community.”

The “Letters for Lakers” exhibit will run in the Exhibition Space through Sept. 23. Frigo and Fisher requested that students submit suggestions for future welcoming exhibits to them through their staff emails, which can be found on GVSU’s online staff directory.