Orientation: revisted, revised
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"They didn't give us peanut butter," Molly Susla '13 says of the provisions her group received for their Colby Outdoor Orientation Trip (COOT2). In the past, many students have cited peanut butter (and the food in general) as an integral part of their COOT2 experience, and its exclusion represents one of the many changes that the administration made to this year's orientation. But not all change is bad. Instead of peanut butter, groups received sunbutter, a comparable product made from sunflower seeds, to accommodate those with peanut allergies. "And I have to admit, it was pretty good," Susla says.
Regardless of the lack of peanut butter, COOT2 is perhaps the most memorable part of a freshman's orientation experience, and this year proved no exception. Susla appreciated the welcoming atmosphere created by the COOT2 leaders and their "awesome energy." "COOT2 is a great way to meet upperclassmen," in addition to meeting fellow class members, Susla says. "It's nice to have someone to go to dinner with."
In the past couple of years, the College has sought to maintain everything students love about COOT2 while improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the experience. Susla remembers her COOT2 leader telling them that last year, "one COOT2 had to get up at four in the morning to get their hike done." Her group had no such problems completing their trip.
This is in part due to the efforts of students who hiked and explored every COOT2 trip over the summer before the trip itineraries were finalized. Laura Maloney '12, who co-led the Upper Richardson B COOT2 this year, says it was a good thing they did this, because the above average rainfall this summer affected a lot of the trails, and "some trips were changed or completely scrapped."
Katie Unsworth '10, vice-president of the Student Government Association (SGA) and this year's COOT2 coordinator, says the general goal of the trip reform "was to make them more accurate, their directions clearer and to beef-up some of the less-outdoorsy trips with more diverse activities." "We added some great new trips," Unsworth says, "got rid of some less-stellar ones and revised every single itinerary." She cited one of her favorite new trips, "Things that are Round," in which students spend a day white water rafting.
The training for COOT2 leaders has also been completely revamped. "Instead of going off-campus to a training camp we stayed here for a lot of the training," Maloney says of her and her fellow COOT2 leaders. Orientation training didn't take place entirely on the Hill, however, due to the addition of a Leaders on the Loose program (comically referred to as LOL for short), which "was basically COOT2 for COOT2 leaders," Unsworth says, during which eight groups of roughly 15 leaders visited various spots in Maine and camped out for two nights. "Apart from being a lot of fun and a great bonding experience," Unsworth claims, LOL was a great opportunity to teach leaders with less outdoors experience some of the necessary skills, such as stove lighting and leave no trace practices "in a hands-on way." "LOL was a great success," Unsworth recalls, "and will definitely remain a part of COOT2 training for the foreseeable future."
Upon returning from their trips this year, COOT2 groups participated in Responsible Alcohol Discussions (RADs) with their COOT2 leaders, which in past years have been conducted by Community Advisors with their residents. This change was made so students could discuss important issues with people they had gotten to know over the past couple days and felt more comfortable with, as opposed to neighbors they had yet to spend much time with. "I mean, I wasn't here last year," Susla says, "but I think discussing it with our trips helped. COOT2 is when you really get to know people, and I think leaving for COOT2 even earlier, instead of a couple of days after arriving, would help even more."
While this may be true, the Class of 2013's first days on campus were designed to encourage interaction, as well as to introduce students to certain aspects of life on the Hill. The day after arrival, small groups met for "First Class," a program instigated in 2008 to serve as an introduction to the College's academics. Before arriving on the Hill, students were asked to prepare for a discussion on a specific topic by completing assigned readings. "Our group had to read an entire book," Susla says, "while other groups only had to read an article. And then the class wasn't that long, and we didn't really have much time to discuss it."
While the program may still boast certain faults, some having to do with the lack of consensus between professors giving out the assignments, one notable improvement over last year's "First Class" is that coordinators tried to match up COOT2 leaders with professors who they'd had in the past, so their groups "could see the relationships students develop with their professors," Maloney says. "Our discussion leader was a government professor, and I'm a government major. And he was my co-leader's advisor last year." Thus, new students were given the opportunity to observe the types of friendly interactions that College students have with their professors, and hopefully assuage any intimidation new students might feel on their actual first day of classes.
On their third day on campus, COOT2 groups participated in C2IT, Colby Community Involvement Trips, also new last year, to introduce the College's goals of civic engagement and community outreach. Students spent the day going into the community and participating in different projects. "My group went to a farm," Susla says, where they dug up potatoes and helped out with other farm duties. However, despite the College's efforts to make the trips more local and engaging, "a lot of people went to places where there was nothing for them to do," Susla says.
With regards to the new orientation programs, this year was about "ironing out the difficulties of the test run last year," Maloney admits. "Overall, I think the changes to the COOT2 program were really positive," Unsworth says, "but clearly there is still room for improvement."
In the near future, the College will evaluate the changes they made to itineraries, the way they trained leaders and the integration of the on- and off-campus aspects of orientation. "Right now, the most important thing is to gather a lot of feedback on how COOT2 went this year and ideas on how it could be revised," Unsworth says. The College sent out surveys to freshmen and leaders last week and is hoping for many constructive responses.