READING, Pa. — Stepping foot on a college campus for the first time can be an intimidating experience for students … until they are greeted by an enthusiastic, energetic group wearing brightly colored outfits complete with tutus, capes and other accessories. Approximately 100 orientation leaders (OLs) were the first to welcome students to Penn State Berks and help to ease the transition to college life.
Orientation leaders are involved in virtually every aspect of first-year students’ journey, from helping them transport their belongings to their residence hall suites on Move-in Day (Friday, Aug. 17), to Welcome Weekend, which began on Friday and ran through Sunday, to serving as mentors in first-year seminar courses.
When asked why they became OLs, these students had one overwhelming response: An OL helped them adjust to college and feel at home when they first arrived.
Ryan Cunnane, a senior majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology from Audubon, is the OL Lead Captain. In this role, he oversees all the orientation activities. Cunnane has been involved with the orientation program for four years and stated that it helped him to meet a lot of his friends during his time at Penn State Berks.
“It’s an important time for first-year students,” stated Cunnane. “Giving them a good welcome and encouraging them to get involved will help them to have fun and be successful.”
For Jennifer Maxwell, a senior elementary and early childhood education major from Denver, serving as assistant lead captain for the special populations team gives her an opportunity to put her leadership skills to work helping first-year students. Maxwell helps international students and other groups get acclimated to campus and provides assistance where needed. She also helps to train returning orientation leaders and to help them develop their leadership skills.
Anh Duong, a senior with a dual major in science and applied psychology from Reading, was an assistant color captain for the Marvelous Mint team, one of the color-coded named orientation groups.
“I wanted to make sure that everyone coming to Penn State Berks has the same experience that I had,” explained Duong.
In addition to the Marvelous Mint team (light mint green), other groups included the Evergreens (dark green), Black Panthers (black), Pink Munchkins (pink), Finding First-Years (blue), and Ultra Violet (dark purple). OLs in each group not only wear tee-shirts in their designated color, but also sport a wide range of fun accessories including tutus, capes, crazy socks, headpieces, and much more.
It’s not all fun and games for the OLs: They must complete extensive training, meet certain academic criteria, and–most importantly–be passionate about Penn State Berks.
In addition, there are “special” teams which include the Movers and Shakers (sky blue), Operations and Physical Plant (orange), and First-Year Group Leaders, whose members are dispersed into the other teams. Finally, there is the Lead Team (garnet), which assists in the planning of the orientation activities and events. Its members are selected in October and they start planning almost immediately for the upcoming fall semester.
After the first-year residential students move in on Friday, OLs assist with activities such as a Residential Student Orientation and Welcome Weekend activities.
After a full weekend of activities, most of the Orientation Leaders go on to work as First- Year Mentors, assisting students in their first-year seminars, a required course that helps students to transition to college life.
The OL program not only helps incoming students to get involved–it also helps the OLs to explore their passion. Joe Dombrosky, a senior electro-mechanical engineering technology major from Trexlertown, has always been interested in technology. As the co-captain of the operations and physical plant team, he has an opportunity to put his technical skills to work in setting up the facilities for orientation, as well as handling the sound, computer and any technical issues that may arise.
“Welcome Weekend provides an opportunity for first-year students to get started on a good foot so they can succeed,” Dombrosky stated. “We help them to find their home, get involved with clubs and find friends–to get acclimated to college life.”
In addition to the 100 students, The Penn State Berks Orientation Program is staffed by 23 resident assistants, and other members of the college community who make every effort to help students and their families make a smooth transition to college life. The program is coordinated by Autumn Fritz, assistant director of community development.