Every university’s orientation leader program will differ based on the school’s tradition and past recruiting strategies. My experience may not mirror yours, but it can give you an idea of what being an orientation leader is like on a smaller campus.
The two words of advice I can give you for the application is to be confident and be yourself. At the time, I was an introvert with little confidence compared to everyone in the group interest meeting next to me. The group meeting was open to all students and everyone moved on to the smaller group interview. For the larger group interview, we wrote down important words to describe our lives and personalities, then stood up in front of the group to introduce ourselves. Following this awkward performance, we were paired in groups to “act out” a scenario. I cannot even remember my group’s scenario, but it was similar to a train wreck. I thought for sure that I was not cut out for the position after practically competing against extremely extroverted people.
The smaller group interview is where you can shine by showing the interviewers what makes you different from the other applicants and why having you as an orientation leader would make an impact on your campus. For our small group interview, we decorated paper bags in accordance with the topic “What do you Love About Southeastern.” Each applicant in the small group answers questions from the interviewers, whose topics can range from leadership or your personality. In this moment, you can stand out by describing who you are and what you can do for your university.
Next comes the nerve-wracking waiting period to see if you made the team. They told us a date when we could pick up result envelopes from the Admissions office. We were not allowed to open them inside the building. The letter can either say the typical, “We regret to inform you…” or “Congratulations! You have been chosen…” At that moment, I was confident I received the former response, but I was actually chosen for a team of 25 out of 100 applicants.
Your first retreat will occur a few weeks after you receive your acceptance so that team members can grow familiar with one another, and you can map out your performance for the Regional Orientation Workshop. My retreat consisted of various games including a clapping name game, another wonderful impromptu performance in front of your new friends and a ropes course outside. These are all meant to be leadership training activities in an effort to build your team’s skills and friendships.
When it comes to the Regional Orientation Workshop, we needed to decide the act we wanted to perform. The options included a song, dance or skit. Our bosses basically convinced us the best option was a song and we rolled with it. We began planning what tunes and outfits we wanted to use in accordance with the year’s theme. Even though your team begins planning for the workshop at your first retreat, the process will continue throughout a full semester.
Future retreats will happen when your team is cohesive to the point that you’re almost sick of each other. You begin bonding at these retreats by having close group circles where you reveal intimate stories about each other’s lives. To say there is some crying is an understatement. You will ball your eyes out and not even fully understand why, but in the process, you’ll gain a close, supportive team.
You are constantly improving your leadership skills through this experience. However, there are two key tasks that you should pay attention to. The first is giving campus tours in which you will educate others about the campus and its stories and fun facts. Before you jump into this task, you will practice tours with your team and each person takes turns describing a building. Through this method, you will learn from your peers about both your strengths and weaknesses and improve overall effectiveness of the entire team.
The second part of your training is a leadership class you will have to take during the summer. In our summer leadership class, we discussed multiple scenarios and what we would do if placed in those hypothetical positions. Our final project was to compose a PowerPoint about Southeastern and what we learned from our class. Personally, it was an easy A. Our professor brought muffins and fruit every Wednesday morning for the course of the summer, and assignments were not too difficult. Even though the class was easy, we all did take something away from the experience.
At our university, we face our first challenge with the help of the previous team. New orientation leaders form groups with veteran teams and learn from their advice, which makes the learning process much less intimidating for the newbies since we could basically shadow the outgoing team. Take advantage of your time with the veteran team! They’ve been through the whole process, so they know almost everything about what you are going to experience within the next year.
You will not have as many tasks this time, so chalk it up as a learning experience. Leave all your nerves at this program and you will excel in the future ones. Form connections with the students and do not be afraid to be goofy. At this orientation, you will learn how to sign in students with their color groups, introduce icebreakers and lead a large group of students. If you give your all at an orientation, expect exhaustion by the end of the day.
Regional Orientation Workshop
The Regional Orientation Workshop could potentially be your favorite experience as an orientation leader. The workshop is wild—you can meet and connect with orientation teams all across your region. If you are from a smaller school, such as mine, you will never host the workshop. You will have to travel for hours on a bus to wherever the workshop is being held, but once you get to room with your team in a hotel, you will wake up tired every morning because you’ve been talking all night.
The program itself, again, consists of leadership training activities. When you first arrive, you will see teams chanting and strolling in the stadium. You know how intimidating cheerleading competitions look? It is similar to that when you walk in, but soon after you will make friends with other teams and join in on the fun.
There are guest speakers and classes organized specifically to introduce you to new strategies that you can bring back to your university’s orientation programs. The best part of my Regional Orientation Workshop was silent disco. From the outside, it looks hilarious with a bunch of people dancing and no music playing; however, from the inside, once you become part of the dance, the experience is more fun than you could imagine.
Living on Campus for the WHOLE Summer
As orientation leaders, we received a stipend and small meal plan for the summer to live on campus. The dorm dedicated to this program had private suits, so we had our own room and shared a kitchen/bathroom space with a roommate. We chose roommates at a retreat by running outside following a string to find our roommate holding its other end. Your roommate is on your team, so you are obligated to get along, and there is a very good chance you will, but not everyone has a good experience (personally, I loved my roommate).
In addition, we are all eating junk food, drinking and staying up late almost every night. Word of advice: watch your health over the summer. Spend as much time as you can with your team and make as many memories as you can, but do not sacrifice your health. We all got sick at one point or another, but mine lasted basically the whole summer.
While living on campus can be a good thing, you can miss out on vacations and working a job that pays more while being an orientation leader. This position is full-time over the summer and the pay is not great, but it is worth the time and memories.
Summer Orientation Programs
Now that you’ve learned the basics, it is time to put your skills to the test. The summer programs we put on are SOPs, for short, and there were two every week. We had a preparation day on Monday and an orientation program the next day, and this pattern continued throughout the week.
In previous years, the university altered this program by cutting the prep day in half for early start of the orientation and including fun spirit competitions between groups. The number of programs you have over the summer depends largely on the influx of students, so you will never really know how many programs to expect. Typically, you will meet between one hundred to two hundred students at each program.
The preparation day will include decorating the room you will be in with your orientation group, stuffing folders with name tags and information about scheduling, rolling T-shirts that you will hand out to students and calling incoming freshmen or transfer students to remind them of orientation and answer any questions they might have. The actual program begins after the students have arrived with you introducing yourself to them in a big performance at an assembly, then meeting up with your groups to begin orientation. For my orientation, we did a Powerpoint presentation on basic information about the university.
Scheduling was the most hectic task and, by far, my favorite. I decided to apply for the team to help students with class scheduling since it is where I feel I can make a huge difference. Building a class schedule is particularly stressful for freshman because they have trouble understanding the process, do not know any of the teachers and some classes they might want could potentially be filled depending on when they are scheduled.
All the orientation leaders are divided into rooms with various focused majors; advisors for related subjects are also present in each room. Students are already given an advising sheet with suggested classes. However, they still have to pick professors and times for the classes. In contrast to what many people may think, we do not comment on the professors and certainly do not bash anyone, but instead try our best to give each student the best schedule they could have for their first semester on our campus.
You will love and hate the people in your team more than once. However, being surrounded by the same people for months will inevitably make you a family. With family, there comes arguments and disagreements, but at the end of the day, your team is a forgiving bunch. Diversity is the best word to describe any orientation team. The goal of your interviewers is to build a team of diverse people with differing outlooks, experiences and personalities.
Even if you go head-to-head with your team once or twice, the team becomes your family and you cannot picture college without them. To this day, I still see members of my team and the connection is unlike anything else I’ve experienced on campus. You will spend long days and burn the midnight oil with your team. We would often go out together, watch movies or play games late at night. By the end of our orientation experience, we were reluctant to say goodbye to our new-found connections. Good news is we did not have to say goodbye because most of us are still very close to this day.