On move-in day 2016, an upperclassman hands an incoming freshman a Muhlenberg drawstring bag as part of her welcome package. Photo courtesy of Muhlenberg College Public Relations

‘Berg welcomed a new generation of Mules to campus this past fall with an updated orientation schedule, packed full of traditions old and new – from a campus-wide BBQ, opening convocation and the Sedehi Diversity project to the newly introduced trip to downtown Allentown and the addition of an extra day to the program.

Although this first head-spinning weekend of activities is a common experience among everyone on campus, few seem to know all the planning that goes into making the freshies at home in the Muhlenbubble.

“The thing a lot of people don’t know about orientation is it goes far beyond the freshman class. Those four days require every part of Muhlenberg’s community to help or guide in some way,” said Samantha Laskin ‘18, a member of the new Orientation Review Committee.

The Orientation Review Committee, which is made up of several advisors, faculty and students took months of planning and scheduling to put the current changes to work. They were aided by the Student Orientation Advising and Planning Committee (SOAP), which is made up of 6-8 students who serve as middlemen between Orientation Groups, or groups of 10-12 freshmen plus their upperclassman Orientation Leader (OL), and the heads of the program: Jan Schumacher, Associate Dean of Students/Di- rector of Student Engagement, Steve Dutton, Associate Director of Student Engagement for Clubs & Organizations & Fraternity & Sorority Affairs and an organizer of Orientation and Ellen Lentine, Associate Director of Student Engagement for Student Activities & Events. This year, the program had 48 OLs, resulting in smaller than average groups of freshmen. The additional day in the scheduling helped spread out some of the previous years’ activities as well.

“There’s a fine line between overpacking a schedule and leaving too many holes. We try and keep the days full so students aren’t sitting and thinking about how much they miss home, but not too packed that they have no room to breathe,” said Laskin.

According to Dutton, the whirlwind schedule of orientation is designed to help new students adjust to college life.

“There is some intentionality behind having such a detailed schedule, and that’s really to prepare students for what they should expect when classes begin,” said Dutton. “Once students start going to class, start getting involved in organizations, various meetings – maybe they have a work/study or part-time job schedules get busy. So we want the orientation schedule to reflect that.”

Dutton did add, however, that the lack of free time was something that caused them to add an extra day to orientation.

“One of the many reasons to expand orientation from three days to four was to allow for more flexibility in the schedule, to allow more free time for students. The schedule is actually more open this year than it has been in the past. One of the reasons being that that’s what students have been asking for. It was so jam packed with activities and things they had to be at that they were looking for more opportunities to decompress, decide what they want to do on their own, buy their books, hang out, have some informal time with friends. So there is more time built in.”

In addition to adjusting to the college culture, orientation is meant to help students adjust both academically and socially to college life.

“Those are the two areas that we know ultimately help retain our students. If you’re successful academically – you’re doing well in your classes, you’re on your way to a good internship – if we can help you meet your career goals starting at orientation, students are more likely to stay here and have a successful college career,” said Dutton. “Same thing with that social transition. If we can find a community for you to connect with, that’s going to keep you here.” Hallie Richie ‘18, made this social transition rather easily.

“I met some of my best friends in my orientation group and they remain my close friends to date,” said Richie. “It is an opportunity to break away from the tie to your freshman roommate and make friends on your own, while totally making a fool of yourself doing endless icebreakers!”

Evan Plaza ‘19, saw social opportunities quite differently. “I think the ultimate goal of O-groups is to have an understanding that there are people who are probably just as scared as you might be about college and who might even have the same interests as you,” said Plaza. “I think it’s almost like a safety net of people you meet before you get to meet everyone who goes here.”

Monique Beaupre ‘20, said the most important aspect of both her freshman orientation and her role as leader to O-group 26 was the pairing of upperclassmen with freshmen.

“As a freshman, I found most helpful the real insight that my Orientation Leader gave me. He gave me real and practical advice as to how to navigate my freshman year. Those genuine student-to-student conversations were really important,” said Beaupre. “My freshmen told me that the opportunities that I gave them to ask me those same types of questions were really important. They also told me that the very practical things like how to open their mailboxes, and to have their IDs ready when picking up a package also helped.”

The newest addition to orientation program, the trip to downtown Allentown, received mixed results.

“Going downtown can be a really important aspect of orientation,” said Beaupre, “but it can be tweaked and worked on to make it the best experience possible for the freshmen.”

Michael Havkins ‘18, leader of O-Group 9, said the exploration of Allentown was one of the best parts of the weekend.

“The great thing about working on orientation is even though so much is changing the root of what orientation is never changes”

“Aside from the great comedy show we all attended, we had lots of fun walking around the city as I led them on a makeshift tour that comprised random fun facts, recommendations of great restaurants and bonding time in a park near by where we all sat on the grass and talked about how our weekends have been going thus far,” said Havkins.

Quentin Bernhard ‘20, also a member of SOAP, believes the program is headed in the right direction.

“The program does help students adjust to college, and it is adjusted and improved every year, based on feedback from first-year students,” said Bernhard. “As a new student, it is easy to feel unprepared going into and coming out of orientation, but the weekend certainly opens doors and answers questions for students so that they feel more prepared for the college years they are about to embark upon.”

All these new changes are what Laskin loves so much about orientation.

“The great thing about working on orientation is even though so much is changing, the root of what orientation is never changes: to welcome and acclimate the freshman class,” said Laskin.

SOAP member Kenny Siry ‘18 said the group appreciates any sort of feedback they can get.

“Since this was our first year with the new four-day structure we expected a large amount of feedback. We were not disappointed,” said Siry. “The OLs are phenomenal at relaying in- formation about their students to SOAP, and we’ve already taken note of a few things that can be improved going forward. That being said, we are always looking for feedback and if anyone has any concerns they’d like to bring up we’d be happy to listen!”

Anyone interested in providing feedback or becoming an O-Group leader can contact Steve Dutton, or anyone in the Student Life Suite.

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Chloe Gravereaux is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Muhlenberg Weekly, to which she has contributed since her freshman year. She dabbles in all forms of verbal and visual art, specializing in journalism and short fiction. Her unrivaled color coordination skills and investment in the dollar section of Target have earned her the nickname "Office Mom."


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