This year’s new student orientation sought to maintain the spirit of years past while implementing new dynamic changes in a five-day program focused on welcoming and transitioning new students into the University.
Coordinator of Orientation and First-Year Experience Justin Beauchamp broke down the main goals of the orientation program.
“The most basic levels we hope the students achieve are academic transition, social transition, feeling a sense of community on campus and having the opportunities to establish connections, whether that’s with other students on their floor, in their First-Year Mentor group, with faculty or anybody they meet out in the city,” Beauchamp said.
In order to achieve these goals and improve this year’s program, one major area Beauchamp focused on was strengthening the First-Year Mentor (FYM) program.
“It’s really important to have that current student being a true role model for the new students,” Beauchamp said. “We’ve continued to enhance [the program] by really preparing the mentors to lead groups of students and make it so that they feel comfortable facilitating those groups and creating that sense of belonging for them.”
In preparation for orientation, the 72 mentors underwent a week-long training period that included learning the logistics of the program and leadership development.
Lectures and workshops covered areas such as diversity facilitation, group dynamics, campus resources and safe-zone training to help equip mentors with the skills necessary to meet the needs of new students.
Sophomore FYM Penny Li explained that although the training period was long, it was ultimately helpful in preparing her to lead her group of new students.
“Sometimes it was kind of hard encouraging group participation, but I definitely sympathize,” Li said. “Talking in a group of close to 20 students about topics like diversity and academics isn’t exactly something that’s a fun first week experience, but we learned different tactics in training to deal with situations like that.”
Since Beauchamp is the only professional staff member in charge of Orientation and First Year Experience at the University, he views the student staff as vital to planning the logistics of these activities. Therefore, there are five CORE Leaders in addition to the FYMs.
The following departments make up the Core Team: Major Events, Outreach, Program Development, Logistics and Publications Coordinators. The members of the CORE Team began meeting and training for orientation at the beginning of the 2016 spring semester.
Junior Gabrielle Gauthier, CORE leader and previous FYM, noted the differences between her previous role and her current one. She noted how being a CORE leader meant she was far more involved and active in developing the orientation program.
“Compared to my previous experience, I was much more involved this year and I got to take a more active role in developing the orientation program,” Gauthier wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “In our meetings, we would come together to discuss what we wanted students to take away from orientation, and we worked on developing our individual jobs to make sure they encompassed the goals that we set out for ourselves.”
Serving as Outreach Coordinator for the CORE Team, Gauthier enjoyed her larger role in the new student orientation this year, as well as seeing the product of her work.
“I got to interact with students through various means of social media, help develop the Guidebook app, and speak to parents and families as they geared up to join the Blue Jay family!” she wrote. “I enjoyed being able to provide ideas and feedback from the beginning, because I was able to see those ideas come to life with this program.”
In addition to improving the FYM and CORE Team, Beauchamp focused on the tradition of Baltimore Day, which involves new students visiting local areas, such as Mt. Vernon, Camden Yards and Federal Hill, among others.
“We have done a lot to make sure that day isn’t just touristy, because it’s also important to talk about the history and the culture of the city and issues that plague not only our city, but cities across the world,” he said. “And to learn the social responsibility that we have as members of the JHU community.”
Compared to last year, Li noted an improvement in the event, as student groups visited more than one location during the day this year.
“The trips were well organized, and it was a really nice way to get off campus and explore the city,” she said.
Freshman Elana Neher also enjoyed exploring the community and even said that Baltimore Day was her favorite part of Orientation.
“It was so much fun visiting the Inner Harbor and other places,” she said. “Baltimore Day was really fun because you could go out and hang out with your group but be able to do it out in Baltimore and learn about the city.”
Neher continued by saying that overall, for her, Orientation was jam-packed and successful, even if she sometimes felt overwhelmed.
“It was a lot of forced activity, but that was a good thing, because it forced you to get around and meet people, which is important,” Neher said.
Freshman Grace Wu thought that Orientation was packed with activities.
“With so many different events and activities it was pretty much impossible to feel bored or lonely,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Freshman Divya Baron wrote that although orientation provided a host of interesting activities, this left rather little free time to spare.
“I thought orientation was pretty well run. There seemed to be a lot of interesting activities,” Baron wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “One issue was that there often wasn’t enough time to do other non-compulsory orientation activities and the days could get pretty long especially considering we often had an 8:30 AM start.”
Baron thought the FYM discussions were the most productive and interesting.
“The discussions really allowed people to open up about issues that were important to them whilst simultaneously providing them with a safe space,” she wrote.
Grace Wu echoed the sentiment that FYM discussions were beneficial.
“Our group also had a very insightful and meaningful common read discussion,” Wu wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “It was fascinating to hear about each person’s opinions and experiences with race and socioeconomic status.
Already looking forward to next year, Beauchamp maintains that the program should constantly be improving.
“My general philosophy is that we can always do better and that we should never be stagnant or mediocre,” he said. “Getting feedback from students, FYMs and faculty and staff is vital because over the years the student population changes, so making sure that we’re still serving the needs of the students is the top priority.”