Orientation Leaders: Making a Difference in a Subtle Way
When I went through orientation last year, I was a nervous, yet excited freshman with no idea of what to expect. After arriving on campus to the boisterous welcome (to say the least!) of the orientation leaders (OLs), I felt my anxiety begin to fade. I soon became acquainted with my OLs and several of my freshman acquaintances. My prickly nerves were altogether alleviated and replaced with eagerness for the craziest journey of my life—college.
There was this instant feeling of connection with the campus community throughout orientation. I respected the difference my OLs made - and in those moments - I knew I wanted to "pay it forward" to the Class of 2020.
Pre-Orientation: "Embrace the Awkward"
This was my first academic year of eligibility to serve as an orientation leader for my college: Birmingham-Southern (BSC). So, when the time came -- I applied, interviewed, and accepted the offer to become apart of Fall Program Team as an OL.
The Fall Program Team did everything an ordinary orientation leader did, except we also helped plan and coordinate several student-led events during orientation. For instance, I helped plan and assign roles at a party we held for the incoming students, set up for the New Orleans themed new student dinner, and made sure all the advising rooms were labeled for group advising sessions.
Our Dean of Students led the discussions as to what type of experience we wanted to create for the incoming freshmen class. The theme of orientation was “embrace the awkward.” In other words, don’t be afraid to be smitten with energy, or act fanatical with the orientees so that they break out of their shells. I "embraced the awkward" by acting like my normal goofy self -- while being extra loud, and making horrible, cheesy puns.
On day 1, the orientation team was stationed at various locations around campus. At first, I helped unload cars and carry items to the freshmen dorms. I was thanked so many times, and I noticed the look of relief on the faces of parents when they realized they didn’t have to take anything up to the dorms. Post-unloading and meeting new students for two hours, I went and greeted at the front gate. By greet, I mean that I jumped, yelled, and screamed "welcome to college" to all the new freshmen and their families. This was a powerful first impression for them (as it was my freshman year) because it instantly showed that BSC would be a fun place to both work and play hard.
Each day of orientation, other group leaders and myself played awkward ice breakers with our groups, such as the name game, to help break the awkward silences between group members and establish friendships between the students. We showed our orientees around BSC and taught them the rules and expectations on campus. We also met in group advising sessions and reflection groups to discuss scheduling and ensure the students were learning what they fundamentals of the college transition during this time.
Last Day, Best Day: Service in the City
The last day, we had our annual Service in the City event, where each orientation group went to various locations in the Birmingham community to perform service projects. My group was stationed at Habitat for Humanity of Central Alabama; we were outside in the heat lifting painfully heavy windows. The funny thing is that at this service site, the orientees bonded more than at any other event. Who would have thought that lifting painfully heavy windows could have brought the group the closest they had been? Obviously, this was not the most pleasant service experience possible, but we all came together because we were all united as one team working for a common goal.
That evening (after everyone took MUCH NEEDED showers), the OLs lined their groups up for their final event: BSC's Honor Code signing. During the line-up, the orientees thanked us for having such an impact on them the first days of their college experience. There was sadness on both sides, between the OLs and the orientees. It was at this moment that I realized that I had actually made a meaningful impact on these students. This experience taught me that the orientation team can help make or break the college experience for incoming students. If a student does not feel welcomed when coming to college, this can make the transition experience difficult and unenjoyable for him or her. I know that being an orientation leader is definitely on my list of things I want to do for the remainder of my time at Birmingham-Southern. I even want to encourage all college students to take the leap to be an OL. Reach out to the new kids on the block. Serve others. Pay it forward.
To the Class of 2020 -- welcome home!
Andrew Maynor is a sophomore at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, AL. Andrew enjoys playing guitar and tennis, hiking, and eating at new restaurants. He is a biology major (pre-med concentration), with both chemistry and math minors. Basically, you'll find him in class or the library until 2019.