This year’s Orientation Executive Staff organized new programming and activities to introduce students to Hopkins and Baltimore. While maintaining long-standing activities like the Interfaith Center’s Ice Cream Social and the hypnotism show sponsored by the Hopkins Organization for Programming (HOP), Orientation staff also revised existing practices to replace Peer Ambassadors (PAs) with First Year Mentors (FYMs).
Orientation, which is designed to welcome new students to campus, began on Aug. 23. It consisted of four days of events, information sessions, open houses and tours, culminating in Convocation on Aug. 27.
In recent years, new students were guided by PAs — returning students who discussed life at Hopkins and answered new students’ questions about the University. This fall, the Orientation Staff revamped the program, replacing PAs with FYMs.
“We really haven’t had the best feedback about the Peer Ambassador program,” senior Brandie Morris, New Student Orientation Executive Chair, said.
Morris added that some felt PAs focused too heavily on their own experiences, rather than discussing issues that were relevant to their entire group of freshmen.
Senior Sam Zorowitz, who was a PA for last year’s Orientation, noted a similar trend.
“What was actually discussed depended on the PAs and the new students. I know many groups spoke about parties; some recruited for Greek Life; and others had more traditional questions [on] how to choose classes, how much to study [and more],” Zorowitz wrote in an email. “The PA you’re assigned to may not have the info you want, depending on what sort of student your PA is.”
With the aim of making Orientation more applicable to all students, each day was assigned a general theme, such as academics or diversity. Within these topics, FYMs were given more discussion guidelines than PAs had received in years past.
In shifting the focus from “ambassadors” to “mentors,” the Orientation Executive Staff also hoped to encourage more long-term relationships. Previously, lack of attendance at PA meetings was a major issue. However, meeting six times over four days, rather than having fewer meetings over a longer time span, contributed to stronger connections within FYM groups, according to sophomore Winston Jin, one of the 61 FYMs. Of his 25 freshmen, Jin said that around 22 showed up to each meeting.
“Instead of just acting as a higher authority, you really built a friendship, while passing down experiences to them,” Jin said, adding that he felt the FYM format was more discussion-based, while the PA format was more similar to lectures.
Also, unlike last year when Morris said PA groups were assigned randomly, this year’s Orientation Executive Staff worked with the Office of the Registrar to ensure that every student was in a FYM group with at least one other student with whom they shared a class.
Though the Transfer Mentors and Family Ambassadors did not undergo similar revamping, some adjustments were made to the programs.
The 40 transfer students, who received more Hopkins-specific information than the freshmen, met in Hop 301 meetings and participated in more activity-based programming, according to Morris. One event, a movie screening of Edge of Tomorrow held on the Beach on the evening of Aug. 26, incorporated returning students as well.
“We asked the SGA [Student Government Association] to send an e-mail to all of the upperclassmen, just saying this is a movie that’s happening,” Morris said. “[it was] just keeping it really low-key, not amping up the new students. They didn’t want to feel like it was a meet and greet with them, they just wanted to feel like a part of the class.”
Traditionally, the Orientation Executive Staff devotes the second day of Orientation to academics — however, due to the shift in the University calendar, the second day, Aug. 24, fell on a Sunday. Unable to invite academic advisors and departments to present on the weekend, organizers were left with an extra day to fill.
To solve this issue, the Orientation Executive Staff added a day dedicated to exploring Baltimore. New students learned how to get around and stay safe in the city, went on “Discover Baltimore” trips, attended an evening barbeque with Maryland-style food and watched movies set in Baltimore. On the Discover Baltimore trips, FYM groups traveled to different locations around the city, including Locust Point, as well as nearby Charles Village.
“In previous years because parents and some students have been really concerned about security, security has talked at this session and that session, so that’s sort of instilled a fear of Baltimore,” junior Monica Rex, family ambassador, said. “This year, they really tried to play up how awesome Baltimore is.”
Hopkins traditions, including the annual First Night Ceremony, were restructured. This ceremony had an “Embrace the ‘S’” theme: rather than lighting candles, new students wrote what made them unique on paper bags, placed tea lights in the bags, and set them up around Keyser Quad.
“It’s kind of like, we all know ‘Johns’ is a weird name, but it’s a unique name,” Morris said. “So what is your ‘S’? What’s that thing about you that makes you different or makes you special?”
“I think it’s an easy way to unite the entire group without making it too specific. We all go here; that’s enough to unite this entire group of people,” she added.
Embrace the ‘S’ also played a role in Orientation publicity, as hashtags like #EmbraceTheS, #GoHop, #JHU2018 and #HomewoodBound were used leading up to, during and following Orientation. Pushing their social media presence, the Orientation Executive Staff introduced senior Hon-Wai Wong as the Marketing and Publications Chair, a position Orientation did not have last year.
Wong designed a comic, which he posted on the Johns Hopkins Orientation Facebook page. The comic follows the Hopkins mascot Jay and his friend Bruiser, a mini-blue jay, touching upon the resources and culture that the University has to offer. Other initiatives included painting a large Hopkins ‘H’ on the Beach and designing move-in T-shirts, posters and giveaways.