Getting oriented with first-years

Getting oriented with first-years

Nathan Tolfa


Over the past few days roughly 600 students  — around 520 first-years and 70 transfer students — have traveled with their families to Whittier College to attend Orientation. Some came from the West Coast, from Oregon and Washington, while others traveled across the country from states as far away as New York. “We have a large group … coming from New York,” said Dean of Students Joel Pérez, “which is different. We don’t normally get a lot from New York.” In addition, the College will welcome international students from Spain, China, India, Canada, and the Netherlands. 

“This wonderful new class includes accomplished athletes, a gifted ballerina, talented musicians, a student who speaks five languages, and numerous students who have given countless hours volunteering in their local communities and around the world,” wrote Vice President of Enrollment Kieron Miller in an email to the Quaker Campus.

While Orientation only lasts three days, the Orientation Coordinators — fourth-year Michael Atwood and third-year Analis Hetter — have been planning for it since the end of last year’s Orientation. “Our first job was collecting feedback,” said Atwood. “I think [right after the previous Orientation is] the time to do it — when it’s fresh in [the new student’s] minds.” Atwood explained that the Orientation team developed a loose foundation for how the three Orientation days would look over the 2017 – 18 academic year, and they have spent the summer filling in the holes and fixing the kinks.

In an email to the QC, Hetter explained her and Atwood’s responsibilities. “Essentially the Orientation Coordinator position entails planning and budgeting all of Orientation logistics,” wrote Hetter, “as well as communication with administration and faculty. Orientation Coordinators are also the main points of contact for any questions on Orientation Day.”

Both Atwood and Pérez described Orientation as a process with a lot of moving parts; planning for Orientation means coordinating and communicating with every department on campus. This means working with Bon Appetit to plan catering, explaining when students will be where to Campus Safety, and assigning incoming students to faculty mentors.

There are logistical problems as well; the school must find a way to host all the incoming first-year and transfer students along with their families. “For us, on our campus, we’re limited in space, so there’s not one venue we can put the entire class into,” said Pérez. He explained that Orientation has moved around a bit over the years. At one time, it took place in Whittier’s gym, the George Allen Fitness Center; however, the hike to the gym is long, uphill, and largely unshaded. 

The Southern California summer heat is another obstacle the New Student Orientation team must overcome. This year, check-in will take place in the air-conditioned Science and Learning Center rather than outdoors in the lower quad, where it has been held in the past. As in past years, students will be assigned into groups, each meeting under a different faculty mentor. This will help to break the crowd into smaller, more easily managed groups.

Pérez explained that the purpose of Orientation is to provide students with a “soft landing,” giving them a chance to grow accustomed to the layout of the College, as well as get to know their peers and the faculty, so they can adjust to the College before they have to deal with the added stress of coursework.

Whittier is also offering an optional Pre-Orientation program this year. Around 68 students have paid the $300 fee to join the program. Students participating in Pre-Orientation will be able to move in early, and take a number of trips to the larger Los Angeles area. Students can choose from several different programs which offer them opportunities to visit Disney Concert Hall, Warner Brothers Studios, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Santa Monica, or spend a couple of days at the Santa Catalina Island.

The students planning Orientation are overseen by Pérez and Whittier’s new Associate Dean of Students Deanna Merino-Contino. She started on Aug. 15, stepping into the position previously occupied by Josh Hartman. “[Merino-Contino] came on our staff last Wednesday, and she jumped in feet first and just went into the process,” said Atwood. “My role,” wrote Merino-Contino in an email to the QC, “ has really been to learn, provide oversight and support for the Pre-Orientation, Spanish Language Orientation, and Orientation teams.” The Spanish Language Orientation was designed by Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion Jenny Guerra as a way to support Spanish speaking families throughout the Orientation process.

In addition to Merino-Contino, Hetter and Atwood have received assistance from Aric Reyna, a graduate student from Central Washington University. Reyna has worked in the field of Orientation organizing since working as a Orientation Leader in his second-year at Central Washington. 

He currently works as an intern for the National Orientation Directors Association (NODA). “[NODA] is a website/database,” wrote Reyna in an email to the QC, “where many directors or coordinators who work closely with each institution’s new student orientation can receive support, collaboration, and resources on the many areas, ideas, and challenges of a college orientation.”  

Reyna has provided assistance in almost every aspect of Whittier’s Orientation. “I have tended to finalizing the orientation schedule,” wrote Reyna, “booking all the rooms across campus, finding staff to pres- ent during orientation, developing training for the orientation staff, collaborating on events with various departments and ser- vices, and so much more.”

Atwood claims that Reyna provides experi- ence and a fresh pair of eyes, and has a more universal knowledge of college orientation than Atwood, who has only taken part in Whittier College’s Orientation. Reyna, in turn, praised Atwood and Hetter’s com- mitment. “It is important for me to voice,” wrote Reyna. “that had it not been for my two Orientation Coordinators Michael Atwood and Analis Hetter, students of Whittier col- lege, I don’t think I would have been able to pull off such an amazingly huge event.”

While faculty provide assistance, Whit- tier’s Orientation program is largely student driven. In an email to the QC, fourth-year Jacob Shore explained how the Whittier Ori- entation team is divided into three tiers. “We have two amazing Orientation Coordinators, Michael Atwood (‘19) and Analis Hetter (‘20), and they have taken care of everything related to orientation; the schedule, staffing, training, working with professional staff from different departments, and a multitude of other responsibilities,” wrote Shore. “We also have our Orientation Leaders, who have been responsible for specific event planning, orientation logistics, and assisting with training. Last, but certainly not least, are our Orientation Advisors (OAs), who essentially are the first point of contact for students on the day of orientation. Our OAs act as mentors to the incoming students and help them become comfortable at Whittier.”

Atwood explained OAs will continue to act as emotional support for incoming students throughout their first semester. Last year, the role of peer mentor was divided into two, a writing associate and an OA. Writing Associates will work closely with faculty mentors to aid first-years with their coursework, whereas OA’s are trained in how to use campus resources, and how to defer students to different offices, should they bring a problem to the OA’s attention.

This year’s Orientation team have made some slight changes to the order and structure of Orientation activities from previous years. The President’s dinner now takes place on Monday, the second day of Orientation, and there will be a block party on Tuesday, giving the new students a chance to meet returning students, who normally move in on that day. “[A] critique last year’s Orientation had was that there were a lot of sessions where [students] were just sitting down and [listening to] people talk,” said Atwood. The Orientation team will replace one presentation on Monday with a “Poet Spirit Fest” where students will be able to get airbrush tattoos, listen to music, and play games. “[We implemented this] because Sunday’s exhausting. It’s a long day, so we wanted to try and give [the students] some breathing room on Monday.”

As planning for this year’s Orientation winds down, Perez is looking ahead to next year’s. “We would like to see more students get involved with planning and taking on being an orientation advisor,” said Perez. “It’s a great opportunity to meet new students [and] to build community.”

“As cheesy as it sounds, I am most excited for it to be over,” said Hetter. “I look for- ward to [seeing] everything fall into place, and [to] sit back to think: ‘wow, we planned all of this.’ We have spent so much time and energy on Orientation, so to be able to watch it all fall into place is what I am most excited for. Our Orientation Team has also been tremendous and extremely helpful to make this all happen, so seeing everyone in their attire on Orientation day is something I look forward to.”