What’s popping? The Great Gator Welcome Back!

G reat Gator Welcome is the official start to a new semester at the University of Florida (UF). From Jan. 9 to Jan. 13, the Division of Student Life hosted events to celebrate students returning to campus after the holiday break.

“Great Gator Welcome is a time students can build community with their peers, be exposed to resources on campus and get acclimated to student life,” said Michelle Marino, a graduate assistant for Campus Events & Traditions within Student Activities & Involvement. “UF prides itself on our spirit. Students can embrace being a Gator and create memories at the events.”

GatorDays: Balloon Bayou

Students deserve to kick off the semester with a bang, and GatorDays provided an exhibit to “Stop, Drop and Pop.” The “Balloon Bayou” in the Reitz Union Student Engagement Portal featured a swamp made entirely of 16,000 balloons! From Jan. 10 to Jan. 12, students could see some of the swamp’s most exciting creatures and plants in a unique setting.

Ten balloon artists contributed their talents to “Shaping the Swamp.” Haley Murk, one of the artists from Mount Dora, Florida, has worked as a face painter and balloon artist for GatorDays and GatorNights. So, when asked to complete the balloon exhibit at the Reitz, she rallied a team of close-knit artists to create the immersive experience.

“We have an incredibly well-rounded team gathered for this project,” said Murk. “Balloons aren’t a common art form that people get to enjoy on this scale. It’s so cool we get to create this whole world with balloons.”

When you first walk into the exhibit, you may notice the band of balloon creatures performing; A tiny mosquito banging on a drum kit, an alligator shredding an electric guitar and a focused turtle playing the saxophone with shut eyes. Then, as you walk into the exhibit, you’ll notice more intricate design work like frogs sitting in a boat, an opossum family hanging from a tree, birds soaring and various plants.

GatorDays also created a flyer to give students more information about some of the fascinating animals and plants in the swamp.

The Balloon Bayou exhibit on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 at University of Florida in Gainesville, FL / UF Student Life photo by Eli Nino.

Student Organization Fair

One of the best ways to get involved at UF is to engage with student organizations. With over 900 student organizations on campus, students can connect with various interests. Each Gator can dive deeper into specific groups, from career-focused organizations to multicultural organizations and sports teams.

Student Activities & Involvement hosted the Student Organization Fair on Jan. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Reitz Union outdoor tabling area. The fair highlighted over 130 clubs that students can join at the university. The next student organization fair will be in March and will highlight new organizations on campus.

The Student Organization Fair on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 at University of Florida in Gainesville, FL / UF Student Life photo by Eli Nino.

GatorNights: Gator Spirit

The Gator student experience is often synonymous with having school spirit. Students celebrated being a part of the Gator Nation at an evening event hosted by GatorNights on Jan. 13 at the Reitz Union.

From 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., students rode a mechanical gator, enjoyed slides, designed tote bags, made glowing boards and more. There were also 750 Stuff-a-Gator plush toys for students to keep as souvenirs to continue a popular Great Gator Welcome tradition.

Gators connected with others at the event and celebrated the start of a successful semester.

Students with their Stuff-a-Gator plush toys at GatorNights on Friday, January 13, 2023 at University of Florida in Gainesville, FL / UF Student Life photo by Eli Nino.

More to come

The Division of Student Life hosts enriching opportunities for students throughout the semester.

Welcome back, Gators!


Writer: Karter Nancy, knancy.thomas@ufl.edu

Source: Michelle Marino, MiMarino@ufsa.ufl.edu;

Haley Murk