Orientation A Success; New Students Settle Into Campus Community

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One week before classes began, incoming first-year students participated in many fun and exciting events during orientation week, held Aug. 23-26. Despite minor setbacks, this year’s orientation went far more smoothly than last year, when many orientation activities were cancelled due to the arrival of Hurricane Irene.
“If you’re comparing orientation to last year, this year’s orientation went very well, with the exception of a few minor changes in programming events” said Sola Ogundele, ’10, Coordinator of Orientation and Service.
One such change in this year’s orientation events was the decision to exclude “Shuttle and Shop,” an activity done in previous years that allowed orientation leaders to drive first-years into town to pick up supplies they may not have realized they needed for the school year. The event was replaced by a survey entitled the “Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (BCSSE),” a national survey which was conducted among incoming first-years, conducted by Elizabeth Clune-Kneuer, Associate Director of Institutional Research.
According to Ogundele, staff members chose to replace “Shuttle and Shop” for BCSSE due to limited schedule flexibility, as they did not want to eliminate the swim test for safety reasons.
Another program event not included this year was “Cross the Line” – an exercise in which students asked peers in a group to cross an imaginary line if they have shared a certain type of experience, ranging from silly to personal.
“[Cross the Line] is a programming component that we no longer do, because as our student body changes we try different things,” Ogundele said. “As professionals is it our responsibility to find activities that create more inclusive bonding experiences and we are transitioning out of using ‘Cross the Line’ to do that.”
In place of this activity, orientation groups were asked to come up with an object that they then placed in a time capsule. One group chose to bury a list of words symbolizing memories from orientation, their favorite things about school thus far, and their hopes. The time capsule will be re-opened in four years at the time of the group’s graduation.
The final event in orientation has traditionally been Convocation, however due to heavy rainfall, the event was postponed. The event has been rescheduled tentatively for Sep. 7.
Despite these changes in programming, many first-years said they enjoyed orientation activities and their introduction into the St. Mary’s community.
“I’ve gone to all of the events; it’s been fun,” said first-year Luke Land. “At first orientation was a little awkward, and some of the ice breakers were awkward. But overall I’ve had a great time.”
“I’ve met a few really nice people,” first-year Katie Dingle said. “Our Orientation Leaders [OL] were really cool. Although I wish they would focus more on showing us around on campus.”
During this year’s orientation, the campus community was once again asked to adhere to a substance-free pledge, in order to alleviate pressure on new students to drink or do drugs. Last year’s orientation was also intended to be substance-free, but with the drastic changes imposed because of Hurricane Irene, dry orientation didn’t really have the opportunity to take effect. This year, as one of President Joseph Urgo’s initiatives to promote a more substance-free campus, orientation staff members and Residential Assistants worked to create alternative events during the weekend evenings for students.
“Our goal was to provide an Orientation, not a ‘Dis-Orientation,’ for the incoming class,” said senior Residential Assistant (RA) Craig Wixon. “From what I’ve heard we had more success this year than in previous years, and I think credit for that is due to the RAs and OLs working together for a common goal. We wanted first years to be free from the pressure of having to drink in order to meet other students. Kudos to the administration for their support, and I’d personally like to thank the RAs and RHCs who continue to help students live and learn in our inclusive community of St. Mary’s.”
According to Ogundele, last year’s substance free orientation was well received, as many students who were surveyed said they appreciated the effort to reduce the pressure to drink. However, she admits that it will take time for the substance-free orientation to be fully effective.
“Overall we were able to provide the class of 2016 with a smooth transition from move in to the beginning of classes” Ogundele said. “This is a unique class, and they were very participatory. I think the Orientation Leaders were very appreciative of that.”

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