When you sit down and start planning something like Orientation Week, just trying to figure out where to start is probably the most overwhelming part of the job. Having never participated in an orientation week other than my own, I decided the best way to do this was to forget about the template that orientation has been based on for the past few years and start from scratch.
What did this result in? A lot of changes. We prioritized incoming students’ comfort, awareness of consent, education on alcohol harm reduction, academics, mental health and inclusion. This allowed us to introduce new events, like Orientation Kick-Off, on the very first day, while also keeping fan favourites like SackVegas, Mountie Mania, Garnet and Gold Rush and, of course, the Karaoke BBQ.
We also introduced a “homeroom” concept for the week. Each group of first years was assigned a classroom on campus where they met each day. During this time, they went over the activities that were taking place that day. Additionally, they did a quick debrief on how they felt about the activities from the day before. Each group of 15-20 students had two orientation crew members to guide them rather than one, as in previous years. Within these groups, we also made it clear that students were not obligated to attend all the events, and that their wellness needed to be a priority throughout orientation week.
Academic Orientation, organized by the deans and faculty, was a huge priority. Students seem to have been more engaged compared to the traditional Convocation Hall presentation. Having the faculty perform this task was incredibly helpful for the Orientation Committee members who were responsible for Academic Orientation, as it allowed them to put their time into the student panel, What I Wish I Knew, which took place in Brunton Auditorium on Sunday evening. The upper year students who sat on the panel did a phenomenal job of opening up about their experiences at Mt. A and gave genuine advice to the incoming class.
This year, all events were promoted equally on the schedule. We avoided calling wellness events “alternative events” or “chill events” because we wanted students to make the choice for themselves, and not based on what they thought was the “cooler” option. With 118 students at Waterfowl Walks, and the foyer of the Purdy Crawford Centre for the Arts completely filled for yoga, the wellness events were some of the most successful of the week.
It is easy to claim that the orientation committee just dance around and twerk all day. But before you do, consider the amount of work that is put into orientation behind the scenes. Throughout the summer, we create the plans that we then bring together in very long days. Over the two weeks leading up to Move-in Day, we carry out those plans while also attending a number of training and information sessions.
On our end, orientation week and the planning process were huge successes. There is always room for improvement, and obviously my opinion on orientation is biased, but, all in all, I am incredibly proud of the entire orientation committee and crew for embracing change and helping new students make themselves feel at home.