SOARing into the semester

First- and second-year students flock to Berg for their first on-campus orientation

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Orientation leaders gather to celebrate the start of a new semester. Courtesy of @muhlenbergcollege on Instagram.

As cars drive up for the first day of college move-in, they just as quickly disappear into a sea of students in matching red volunteer t-shirts screaming with excitement at their arrival. The minute the car stops, it is swarmed. Surrounded by the cheers of eager upperclassmen, first-year-students and returning sophomores are welcomed home.

Lily Knowles ‘23 is one of the orientation leaders grabbing bags and cheerings. For the past 2 years Knowles has been an orientation leader, and she notes the extreme difference in energy and overall experience when the program was in-person versus online. “Last year was tough. This year was a complete 180.” 

Despite having a similar curriculum for orientation both in-person and on Zoom — attending the Sedehi Diversity Project and participating in discussions about campus services and campus culture — the ultimate difference was human connection.

The students who planned orientation expressed the same sentiment. Emily Burns ‘22, who was an Orientation Team Leader this year, states that “being an Orientation Team Leader was one of the best experiences I’ve had here at Muhlenberg. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have learned so much from collaborating with this incredibly passionate group of Orientation Leaders.  I cannot wait to see how the orientation program continues to grow and expand, impacting more and more individuals!” 

One major reason for the success of orientation this year was the orientation leaders returning to the typical training schedule of years past. The orientation leaders, or “OLs,” moved back a week early to prepare for the underclassmen’s arrival. This allowed them to form close connections with each other. Knowles added, “The first thing the first-years saw was our connections to each other, and they saw a group that was really close and held so much love for each other and that foreshadowed the connections they’re going to make at Muhlenberg.”

I made 70 new friends on campus and my friends are constantly asking me how I know so many people. Becoming an orientation leader was the best decision I’ve made at Berg and it truly is an amazing group of people.

– Maya Brooks ’24

“When I started orientation week I couldn’t understand why everyone was so excited to go through hours of training, but I now see that orientation was the best way to get back into an in-person semester,” said Maya Brooks ‘24, a first-time orientation leader. “I made 70 new friends on campus and my friends are constantly asking me how I know so many people. Becoming an orientation leader was the best decision I’ve made at ‘Berg and it truly is an amazing group of people.”

As always, the orientation leaders were a high energy group. As a result, they were able to facilitate an exciting transition for first-years, even though move-in can be an overwhelming experience for all students.

Both the first-years and the rest of the student body were able to form a bond from this excitement of new journeys and new beginnings after a long few years apart. “We’re all back on campus and feeling the excitement so it’s sort of a shared connection which is really special,” Knowles said. 

Last year, the new students and their orientation leaders hadn’t been able to share such a bond, so orientation experience was further enhanced.

There was some overlap between first-year orientation and the Sophomore Orientation and Reconnection (SOAR), but they were still able to have their own separate candle-lighting ceremony and kick-offs. As she and the rest of her orientation leaders prepared to perform their traditional flashmob, Knowles was unsure whether the sophomores would be excited or awkward, but she was overwhelmed by the energy they shared.

“It was nice to feel that connection with my class on campus that I just didn’t feel with online orientation.”

– Molly Layden ’24

This semester, SOAR gave the opportunity for sophomores to get the full experience they weren’t able to have last year and express their full excitement for being on campus. They were able to officially begin their on-campus experience without missing out on any elements. Though there was a form of online orientation last year, establishing a community through a screen is not ideal, especially at a school like Muhlenberg where there is typically such a strong and connected student population. 

Molly Layden ‘24 was pretty hesitant about attending SOAR events but was pleasantly surprised by how much she enjoyed her time there. Since she had already been on campus her first year and attended orientation online last year, “A lot of the descriptions were things said ‘to mark the beginning of your journey at Muhlenberg’ but… I’ve already started my Muhlenberg journey and I’m already a quarter of the way through.”

Yet these events allowed for sophomores, like Layden, to have their own space and own excitement about being on campus as a group. After attending the candle-lighting ceremony and social events, Layden said that “It was nice to feel that connection with my class on campus that I just didn’t feel with online orientation.”

Orientation leader Dylan De Magistris ‘24 shared, “Orientation weekend was very well executed. The OL staff was highly trained and prepared to help incoming students transition into a college routine. It’s exciting to watch my o-kids be out-going, mak[ing] new friends, and flourish[ing] in their first few weeks of classes.”

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