Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Debbie Southern returned to overseeing the Orientation Week (O-Week) programing aware that things had changed since she last oversaw it in 2010. She also saw a chance to implement more changes from student feedback last year.
This year Southern started back in Winter Term by hiring OLs, who then took an Interdisciplinary Introduction to Leadership class together on leadership during Spring Term.
“I tried to use some of the components and some of the information we learned from that class to empower the student leaders to take on a project,” Southern said.
The projects took the form of the various activities new students do during orientation. Junior Jacob Elliott liked having the chance to work on a program he liked as both a freshman and as an OL last year: Perceptions and Perspectives.
“I love hearing what people say and what people get out of it, because there’s so much you can get out of it and there’s so much you can potentially not get out of it as well,” Elliott said.
To help decrease stress for new students, some of the projects were made optional. For instance, the tours were optional and scheduled on the day students met with their advisors.
Another optional event was the Blaze Your Trail event, which featured counseling and presentations from groups like Counseling Services and Greek life. Sophomore Dianell Vega helped plan Blaze Your Trail and strongly encouraged her orientation group to go, even though it was not required. She still wished more had shown up to the optional events, and had a few difficulties with some students about not going to the mandatory ones.
“There’s only so many texts that you could send for them to show up,” Vega said.
According to OL Project Manager and senior Tatiana Perez, new students also spent less time overall with their OLs this year, partly because of the increase in optional activities and also because of more planned events with their RAs.
“I felt like we saw them less as well. I think that came from them wanting to meet with their RAs a little bit more often this time around, and I understand that, ” Perez said.
The Project Managers served as links between the OLs and Southern, Director of the Center for Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantez and Associate Director of International Student Services Rebecca Eckart.
Perez, Vega and Elliott all worried about their connection to their groups and how well their groups connected. Elliott’s group, however, bonded immediately and by the second day even started to make their own plans for lunch and then invited him along with them.
“Something I would change, I don’t know how it would even work, but to have time to really develop that relationship,” Vega said. “Even last year as a freshman I still don’t think there was as much opportunity to like really connect. I told my kids don’t ignore me when you see me on campus, we’re still friends. ”
Cervantez has played a supporting role in O-Week planning for a while now and continued through this year. She emphasized the importance of O-Week in introducing students to Knox’s culture and opening their eyes to the variety of backgrounds that students bring to college.
“I always tell people that I’m not saying I’m gonna change your mind and I’m not telling you that you have to change your mind,” Cervantez said. “But what I’m asking is that you have a willingness to hear, to learn, to listen, so that you can understand a perspective that’s different than your own.”
Everyone acknowledged that this year had some rough spots in organizing, but also that some are expected with a new system. Elliott noted a lack of communication with OLs over the summer. Meanwhile Southern looked forward to being able to devote time during the Winter and Spring Terms to developing programming, not organizing the IDIS class for the first time.
With the feedback they will get from student surveys in the coming weeks and this year’s experience, they hopethey can address those rough spots next year.
“Orientation is always stressful for the Orientation Leaders. The highlight is definitely seeing our kids and getting to hang out with them, which is why I would have preferred more time with them potentially. But in general, it wasn’t more stressful than it has been in the past. It’s always stressful, it’s always fun,” Elliott said.