OSA Begins Orientation 2013 Process

After the leaving of Coordinator of Orientation and Service Sola Ogundele and upcoming graduation of over 30 seniors who were 2012 Orientation Leaders, the Office of Student Activities has begun its work on the 2013 Orientation process.

That work includes hiring new Orientation Co-chairs sophomores Teresa Padgett and Bryan Pelkey, filling Ogundele’s vacancy, and accepting new and returning Orientation Leaders (OLs).

Being co-chairs of Orientation involves choosing OLs and staying at St. Mary’s from June 3 through the start of Orientation to plan OL training and other events surrounding the welcoming of the new students to campus.

Pelkey, a biochemistry major and economics minor from Mt. Airy, MD, mentioned that he applied for the job after his own OL, among others, suggested it to him. “It’s the third Orientation experience you can have as a student. First, you’re an orientee, then you can be an OL, then a co-chair.”

“It’s like seeing the process from a different perspective,” noted Padgett. “I love Orientation and I just want to make it an awesome experience for everyone.” Padgett is a public policy major and an environmental studies minor from Bedford, VA.

The new Coordinator of Orientation and Service will be Lisa Cote, a 2009 graduate of St. Mary’s. Cote was also an OL and a co-chair as a student, and is set to begin her new position on Mar. 11.

While returning OLs have already been chosen to lead next year’s incoming class, applications for new OLs are due to the Office of Student Activities on Mar. 7. New OLs will be selected by Padgett, Pelkey, and Cote after an interview process in late March.

“We’re really looking for students who embody the St. Mary’s spirit and who wants to make a difference for the first years,” said Padgett. Pelkey also noted that they are looking for students who are up for the challenge of being an OL.

Eligible students for the OL position are rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors with a minimum 2.5 GPA. Applicants are also encouraged to be involved on campus and be enthusiastic about welcoming new students to campus.

Orientation A Success; New Students Settle Into Campus Community

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.”

A Postponed Airbands Makes Its Return

The date for the annual Airbands show has been moved to October 2 at 6 p.m. between the Michael P. O’Brien ARC (Athletic and Recreation Center) and the tennis courts, a change from its usual location on the Campus Center patio.

Airbands is a St. Mary’s First-year Orientation tradition in which the Orientation Leaders perform a show, which includes music, dancing, and dress-up, on the last night of Orientation Weekend. Unfortunately, “Hurricane Irene trumped the original Airbands date,” said Sola Ogundele, the Orientation coordinator.

The entire campus was in lock-down mode due to the hurricane’s inclement weather on August 27, the day Airbands was originally supposed to occur.

This weekend, Airbands will be performed rain or shine. The stage will be set up beneath an outdoor events tent, which will deter any rain. “We’re still going to have lights, music, and hot pink shirts, which the OL’s will be wearing around campus to promote the event,” says Ogundele.

Another concern for the Orientation team is the addition of upperclassmen to the audience. “A lot of returning students will come and see their friends perform, so yes, I expect a bigger crowd,” says Orientation co-chair and senior Caitlin Fowler. Airbands is usually held before most of the returning students arrive on campus, so Airbands’ intended audience of first-year students make up the majority of attendees.

“We are still sticking to our Substance-Free theme, so none of the skits will have alcohol or drug related things in them,” says Fowler. The Airbands event itself will also be substance-free, and the Orientation team asks that all attendees be respectful of this theme. Ogundele says that “if anyone shows up with any drugs or alcohol, they will be dealt with accordingly” by campus activities volunteers or Public Safety.

Although Orientation Weekend has already ended, the Orientation committee agrees that Airbands is such an important event for the first-years and Orientation Leaders that it could not have been canceled for good. “It’s something special that the OL’s do for their orientees, and there will be plenty of free t-shirts,” says Ogundele. Adds Fowler, “The OL’s worked hard on their routines, so for them to not be able to perform would be an absolute shame.”

Airbands is set to be just as silly and creative as it has been in previous years, and it will be a nice break for the first-year students buckling down for their first year of college academics. “I think it is important for the first-years to see just how goofy, light-hearted, and fun the OL’s can be. Airbands is usually a favorite for everyone so I think not to have it would be very sad,” said Fowler.

First-year student Megan Dower echoes the sentiments of many other first-years, who are excited to finally see the show that their OL’s have been talking about since their first day on campus. “My OLs told me it’d be hilarious and fun to go to, so I’m glad it’s still on next weekend,” she said.

First-years, What Did You Enjoy Most About Your Orientation?

Allegra Garrett
English/Theater

I don’t know. I just loved meeting new people, especially when we were locked in for the hurricane.

Amy Maenner
Bio

Sex Signals. It was hilarious

Jamie Ignowski
Bio/Psych

Sex Signals and our OLs. My least favorite part was definitely the cyber seminar.

Angela Cirillo
Art/Bio

Definitely meeting new people. Probably moving into my dorm and making it feel like home.

Kyriakos Filipakis
Undecided

The best part I guess would be my group leaders. Just cause they’re awesome… they were so worried about us and protective of us, like we were their children.

A.J. Norby
Undecided

Everything’s been great. I can’t think of anything that hasn’t been fun.

Samantha Feller
Poly Sci

Sex Signals…was good. I wasn’t really sure what to expect [but] it was a lot of fun.

Terrence Thrwett
Public Policy and Econ

The aspect of meeting new friends. Initially I thought coming to college was very hard…but the people here are so much better than Baltimore. Everybody’s so nice.

Orientation Sobriety Pledge – Give it a Shot!

By now, President Joesph Urgo’s all-student email (as well as all-staff and all-faculty email) has either been read or deleted by the campus. For those of you who may have chosen the latter option before reading it, let me briefly summarize it here. Essentially, Urgo has implemented a policy for the entire St. Mary’s community to remain alcohol-free, or “dry,” for the first four days of the 2011-2012 school year. To be clear, those first four days are orientation days, and the majority of the student population won’t even be returning until Aug. 29 anyway, which is why the email asks “first-year students, orientation leaders, and residence life staff to pledge to abstain from all substance use” during that time.

I’ll be back on campus helping to work on the orientation issue of The Point News, and I’d like to issue my total support of this policy. Though I’m under 21, and therefore I legally would be obligated to not consume alcohol regardless of the policy, I fully believe the premise behind its creation as sound and wise.

Urgo has offered a couple of reasons for policy: it’s a continuation of our college’s attempts at safe alcohol consumption. Orientation is a time for adjustment and thus a time to be alert and sober, and new friendships and identities are being cultivated which, if they are to be true, inherently calls for sobriety.

We’ve all gone through orientation, and while some of us might have preferred to have been in a drunken stupor, I think it’s extremely important to be aware of the difficulties that the first few days of college entails. A student is away from every place that is familiar, everyone they love, and essentially, everything they know. Four days of adjustment should be spent with a clear head and with sound judgment.

Additionally, with our President’s signature on the Amethyst Initiative, St. Mary’s has already offered its explicit expectation of safe alcohol consumption, and if there’s any way to describe drinking during orientation,it would not be “safe alcohol consumption.” If we expect our students to be able to responsibly drink, we must first teach them that drinking does not always mean binge-drinking, vomiting, and repeating.

Presumably, first-year students come to college with tenfold more freedom than they had in high school, and with new freedom comes new expectations of what college is like. If students come believing that their first few days are going to be spend at wild parties and with massive hangovers, they’re going to go to wild parties and get massive hangovers. If students come expecting to have four days of orientation, hopefully the adjustment will be easier, the expectations will be lower, the pressure will be off.

Finally, I’m convinced that this policy will make orientation safer; friends who have known each other for a while are able to discern when someone has maybe had a little too much, or even if someone needs medical attention. But for people who’ve known each other for less than a week it is far more difficult to know when to intervene.

I’m hoping that most of the community will not only take the pledge but also follow through, and while I know that 100 percent participation is always impossible, I think St. Mary’s is willing and able to seize this opportunity and take its mission to heart.

 

AUGUST TRAINING – AN RA’S ORIENTATION

On Feb. 21, I opened a manila envelope on my desk addressed to “Steven Rees, PG124”. Inside was a letter welcoming me to the Residence Life staff for the 2010-2011 academic year, as the Resident Assistant of suites 42-49 in Waring Commons. While I felt excited that last week’s interview process had gone so well, and knew that it meant returning to campus early for pre-semester training, I had no idea how intense and important that week would be until I stepped back onto campus grounds on Aug. 18.

As the week progressed, I began to get a feel for what training was like. I had been told by experienced RAs over the summer that it was mostly powerpoint presentation information, from sundown until sunset, with emergency trips to Donut Connection during the late-night hours. It wasn’t even close to that; we didn’t make many trips to DoCo at all. But, the training wasn’t all about the powerpoints, either, as the program (titled “RA College”) would make you believe.

Much of what we needed was information, whether it was about College policies, drugs, being a good leader and role model for your residents, understanding the ethics of gray-area situations, or knowing the difference between sexual assault and sexual violence. But all of training couldn’t just be facts that we could have read over the summer; while we had to know the policies we had to implement, the implementation itself was also important.

The Res. Life Professional Staff introduced skits for that need. Every RA in-training acted out situations we could face, including fire evacuations, roommate mediations, quiet hour and alcohol policy enforcement, and loud party dispersal. Every RA, new and returning, took part in at least a few skits, and learned (to the best of a skit’s ability) what a situation would really feel like, and how to handle it.

This was the most valuable part of training for me. I didn’t know how to stand up against seven-foot tall basketball seniors, or speak with an authority that would make people want to listen. Through the training, and practice, I began to learn those skills, and what being a Resident Assistant really means. It wasn’t about getting the nice, discounted suite or the cool magnetic nametag. And it certainly wasn’t about the power; we weren’t trained to be policemen. It was about being exactly what the job title implied; being an assistant, a resource, for residents of the College. For me, it meant being available for my 46 residents from suites 42-49, having the knowledge to answer their questions about studying, time management, or policies, and just being able to give advice, when needed. Training showed me a lot about independence, and what it really means to demonstrate and speak with confidence.

Training also gave me a chance to bond with friends new and old, whether it was staying attentive during powerpoints or acting out in front of a group. And if this was only training, I’m looking forward to what a semester of experiences such as these will be like.