First-Years Jump Into Life Outside the Classroom

PermacultureBy Katy Shenk

Student Life Editor

  Starting life at college can be stressful, but this year 340 members of the incoming class navigated that transition through participation in the program Orientation Explore.

Formerly known as Pre-Orientation, students spent their first three days of orientation week in one of 30 different programs designed to accommodate a wide variety of interests. Ranging in topic from permaculture to self-defense training, most programs were run by Washington College faculty or community members.

Although a number of pre-orientation sessions have been offered since 2009, this year the program underwent a number of significant changes. Firstly, it was made universal for all students participating in orientation, with the exception of pre-season athletes.

The college based this decision on the success of last year’s program, which saw a marked increase in enrollment after a significant drop in program costs, according to Explore Orientation Coordinator Laura Johnstone Wilson.

“Students that attended pre-orientation were more engaged and our retention numbers were 5-6 percent higher,” she said.

The second major change was the placement of Peer Mentors into each program as Explore Guides to help communicate with students and organize off-campus transportation. In previous years, outside student volunteers had assisted with programs due to their familiarity with certain professors or departments.

According to Wilson, some Peer Mentors felt it would be more beneficial to have students instead become familiar with a member of their team that would continue to mentor them through the rest of orientation week. In accordance with their request, Peer Mentors signed up to guide programs according to their interests.

“The [Peer Mentors] worked really hard. The program leaders relied on them to take charge of the logistics of their programs,” Wilson said.

The final difference, one that Wilson is especially proud of, was the incorporation of international students into Explore programs and the culminating Chestertown community service project. Formerly, international students were kept to their own orientation schedule.

Wilson emphasized the benefits of the Explore programs for international students and other first-year students alike. Not only do students have the opportunity to engage socially before they begin their classes, but they can connect with WC faculty and staff, she said.

For example, programs partnered with services on campus, such as the Department of Public Safety, Buildings and Grounds, and Dining Hall staff. In the program “If You Build It,” students assembled their own bookshelves and learned other woodworking skills.

Similarly, as part of “Top Chef,” students worked with Dining Hall staff to create their own concoctions in the Dining Hall. Explore Guide Alexis Desai, junior, described how the students made all of their meals from scratch and ended their three days with a recreation of “Top Chef.”

“Another Explore group actually came to taste our food. Everything turned out delicious and I was so proud of all of them,” she said.

Though she often receives credit for the program’s success, Wilson emphasized how the faculty and community leaders deserve more recognition for their efforts.

“The success of the program relies on the people who run the program. They go above and beyond their responsibilities and see the impact the program has and how rewarding it can be for the students,” Wilson said.

Wilson said she hopes to eventually have a roster of between 65 and 70 programs on a rotation schedule to both give program leaders a recess and allow for the development of new programs.

In addition to adding programs centered on drama and music, she would also like to incorporate student-run programs to allow interested students to gain leadership experience.

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