Freshman Explore! program runs in new format

By Heather Fabritze

Student Life Editor

The Orientation Explore! Program, a staple of Washington College’s freshman experience, reshaped its format and schedule to welcome the Class of 2026.

Last fall, the Explore! program took on a different appearance than it had in years prior. Freshmen were given a full week of orientation events and time to bond with their first year seminar groups and peer mentor. Explore! followed in the month or two afterward, with events scattered throughout.

This time, however, Explore! acted as a precursor to the actual orientation schedule and lectures. For roughly three days from Aug. 23 to 25, freshmen met with their Explore! groups and experienced the local culture of the Eastern Shore.

One experience was led by Instructional Technologist Raven Bishop and Assistant Professor of Education and Director of the Museum, Field, and Community Education Minor Dr. Sara Clarke-De Reza. For multiple years, Bishop and Dr. Clarke-De Reza have been the leaders for the Making History: Making Museums Explore! experience.

The program involves exploration of local museums and historical sites. Orientation students had the opportunity to speak with museum curators and archivists, and work to digitize objects for a local museum partner.

Sumner Hall, an organization in Chestertown that honors African American culture in the community, was the group’s partner.

Bishop felt that students introducing themselves to local history prior to the school year was a benefit of this year’s program.

“Taking place during students’ first days at WC gives students an immediate and impactful experience with the things that are a hallmark of a WC experience – close connections with peers, faculty, and staff, an introduction to the incredible community and region that surrounds the college, and meaningful experiential learning,” Bishop said. “I think this still happened last year, just not all at once.”

Other programs this year included outdoor partnerships with Echo Hill Outdoor School, RiverArts, the Sultana Education Foundation, and ShoreRivers. An entirely student-run Explore! – an Equestrian experience – also ran for the first time.

Peer Mentor Leader and senior Kate Ruppert said that last year’s format had its benefits – notably more flexibility regarding the schedules of student athletes – but overall said that running Explore! and regular orientation back-to-back leads to more participation.

According to Ruppert, these effects were already seen in students’ reactions to Explore!.

“It’s more organized and we have much better participation and excitement coming from our first-year students,” Ruppert said.

Having students actively participate and connect with their peers over common interests is one of the primary goals of the program. It is the freshmen’s first chance to engage with the Chestertown community.

Assistant Dean for Student Engagement and Success Tricia Biles views the Explore! program as “one of the most important welcoming experiences [WC] could have.” According to Biles, it is a staple of the WC orientation experience, and one that freshmen often remember for years.

“The value they get out of it is the memories,” Biles said.

Biles hopes for previous Explore! leaders to return, as well as recruiting new leaders via word of mouth. This includes any students interested in sharing their expertise as a student Explore! leader.

Photo courtesy of Kain Domenech

Photo Caption: Explorees on the Everything Football Explore! visit the Baltimore Raven’s stadium on their first day of the program.

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