It wasn’t long after Astrid Salarda ’14 took her first step on Mary Baldwin’s campus that she decided it was the college for her. And before the excited freshman sat in her first class, or even moved into her residence hall, she was sharing her thoughts about her first year at Mary Baldwin with the world.

Astrid Salarda Salarda, of Houston, is the mastermind behind Unfamiliar Grounds, a blog that explores student life at Mary Baldwin. Fellow first-years Holly Johnston, Mawa Ali, and Magen Stempin joined Salarda after meeting through the official Mary Baldwin Facebook page and the new Class of 2014 page.

According to Salarda, who has maintained a blog of her own in the past, the guiding force behind the communication is to unite the diverse group of women in the Mary Baldwin student body. Moving from a large city to a small town is a bit of a culture shock for Salarda. But the mixture of races and ethnicities found among Mary Baldwin students is making that adjustment easier.

“Every one is starting out with the same fear — not knowing anyone, not sure who has the same interests,” Salarda said. “I wanted to include [contributors to the blog] with diverse interests. It kind of brings you into the family.”

Magen Stempin align=“I hope to shed some light on [what] life for PEGs really is like,” said 14-year-old Stempin, a native of La Plata, Maryland, who is enrolled in Mary Baldwin’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG). “Some people may have preconceived notions about us that may be false; others may just be interested in what we’re like, what we’re doing, how truly difficult college may be for us. And sometimes, it’s good to have another view on a topic. It’s a bit of a wake-up call, to see how other people in different situations who have the same current situation as you approach things. That’s what I hope to bring to the table.”

Johnston’s first posts on Unfamiliar Grounds reflect her passion — politics.

Holly Johnston“By contributing regularly, I want to be able to give those reading an update on the political happenings in Staunton, which I am still trying to figure out myself, as well as politics in Virginia with the upcoming midterm elections, pretty much anything political in general — plus, how I am dealing with the transition from high school to college,” said Johnston, a native of England, who comes to Mary Baldwin by way of Danville, Virginia.

The quartet write about their excitement as “freshWOmen” with an engaging and open writing style which, in a way, makes these new acquaintances seem like old friends.

“With much love,” Salarda signs off her first blog entry, in which she promises to update the website with useful information on topics such as health, food, current events, things to do (at a low expense), the arts at Mary Baldwin, and exploring Staunton.

Mawa Ali“I know we will all have great experiences as well as challenges this first year, but we can get through it together,” writes Ali, who comes to campus from Seattle. “I hope no one gets the feeling of isolation because I am certain you will have us students to be, at minimum, a temporary family for you.”

The enthusiasm with which the students are approaching their first year of college is directly proportional to the enthusiasm with which college representatives recruited and welcomed them.

“Everyone is extremely nice and helpful. Everyone. You don’t feel intimidated to ask a staff or faculty member you’ve never met or seen before a question,” Stempin said.

Salarda said she was inspired by the warm reception she received from Mary Baldwin right from the start.

“I came here and I loved it,” she said. “What closed the deal was that the people were so nice. With the bigger schools I had applied to I didn’t have that close relationship. I feel like I have family here.”

“Our faculty and staff work hard to build connections with students through visiting days, summer advising days, and many more welcome activities leading up to the start of the academic year,” said Lynn Gilliland ’80, director of first and second year experience. “It’s gratifying to see new students grab hold of this enthusiasm and channel it in their own unique way.”

Mary Baldwin University follows many blogs from students and alumnae including those from Sara Ryan ’12, Maria Warith ’13, Jordan Armstrong Denton ’04, Aviva Dove-Viebahn ’01, Ruth Graham ’00, Mandy King ’07, Hannah Guarendi ’09, and Angela Perri ’91.