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Freshmen Feel at Home through Pizza and Puzzles

April 16, 2018

On a chilly February evening, a small group of St. John Fisher College students found themselves around a cozy table, eating pizza and wings and sharing details about their majors, hometowns, and experiences at the College. They weren’t gathered in the dining hall, but instead the kitchen of President and Mrs. Rooney.

A small group of students gather at the President's Residence for dinner.

In fall 2016, the Rooneys started a new program, Pizza and Puzzles, in an effort to meet undergraduate students in a way that would make them feel relaxed, comfortable, and well, at home.

“We had heard about events happening at presidents’ residences at other colleges, and we were looking for a way to engage students with our house,” recalled Susan Rooney.

Avid puzzle makers, Mrs. Rooney noticed attendees of a party gravitating to a puzzle left out in their living room.

“We noticed that people stood around and used it as an ice breaker, putting pieces together and socializing,” she said. “We thought that might be an activity students would enjoy. And, since pizza is such a universally liked meal, we put them together and came up with Pizza and Puzzles.”

It turned out to be a recipe for success. The Rooneys have hosted more than 20 gatherings, typically bringing about a dozen or so students—some freshmen and some upperclassmen—to the house each time. Mrs. Rooney gives a tour before the group settles in for conversation, food, and games.

Students, including Faye Conley and Madelyn Hepp (second and third from the left) work on a puzzle at President and Mrs. Rooney's house.

Students, including Faye Conley and Madelyn Hepp (second and third from the left) work on a puzzle at President and Mrs. Rooney's house.

First-year student Madelyn Hepp said being at the house in a small group made it feel personal.

“Before the event, the president was a face and a name, but to be here and meet his wife and see where he lives, it makes Fisher feel like your home,” Hepp said. “It’s the Fisher family. They say it, but now I really understand it.”

Senior Faye Conley agreed. Both students live in Murphy Hall, and a month into the spring semester, appreciated the opportunity to spend some time in a house.

“Because it’s at their home, it feels very cozy and personalized,” Conley said. “It’s nice having someone who is genuinely interested in your day or your major; it makes you feel at home.”

Over the course of the evening, the small group took turns contributing to the puzzle, while others relaxed on the sofa and chatted with Mrs. Rooney. For her, it’s the highlight of the program.

“I love getting to know the students,” Mrs. Rooney said. “We (myself and older students) try very hard to encourage students to be involved, get help if they need tutorial services, and take advantage of what the College has to offer them. Some students that came to our first events are now coming as leaders.”