Tent City brings COOTs together
In Summer 2011, Tent City came to Waterville for the first time ever. As droves of student leaders headed to the Hill they not only prepared for the arrival of first-year students but also for their own close-to-nature experience.
In an effort to stick to a tight budget for the Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips (COOT) this year, COOT leaders slept in tents during their week of training and could not access their rooms until Friday, August 26. The COOT committee made up of 10 student leaders alongside Nicole Caruso, the associate director of Campus Life and director of outdoor education, made the decision.
“Staying in tents reduced the cost of leader training without greatly reducing the time that COOT leaders have together to connect and bond over training, which is a real value of being a COOT leader and something the committee wanted to protect,” Director of Campus Life Jed Wartman said.
While trip leaders who had already taken their wilderness first aid course prior to the beginning of COOT training only camped out for one night, those who arrived early to complete the wilderness first aid training spent three nights sleeping in tents on Runnals Hill.
Rachel Goff ’12 led a COOT trip for the first time this year. She said that Tent City was a good idea in theory but not necessarily in practice. “While I think it’s a cool idea in terms of building community, it was kind of frustrating in terms of moving in and keeping all my stuff in my car, ” she said.
Students, especially COOT leaders, on Mayflower Hill are no strangers to the outdoors, thanks in large part to the COOT program, which is mandatory for first-year students. Since 1975, orientation trips have assigned first-years to two upperclassmen leaders for an excursion in the wilderness. Recent additions have expanded the COOT repertoire to include trips from cooking to yoga and mindfulness to local exploration for those less inclined to spend their days hiking or doing trail work.
COOT coordinator Becky Newman ’13, alongside co-coordinator Julia Knoeff ’13, spent the summer preparing for the tent aspect of the COOT leader training for first-year orientation. She said that the budget for COOT was much lower this year. Camping out kept the dormitories closed, which helped to save money. The training period was also shorter this year than it has been in the past.
The change faced one major down-side; it created a bit of a hassle for leaders without cars. These students had to off-load their stuff into a storage space and then had to move it into their rooms when the dorms opened.
Second-time COOT leader Raymond Rieling ’12 did not have a car on campus, so he had to move his belongings into the basement of Anthony-Mitchell-Schupf. Rieling, who spent three nights camping, said that while it would have been more comfortable to move into his dorm room right off the bat, “it wasn’t that bad.” In the end, he said, “it probably helped with bonding [among leaders].”
Some leaders found ways around living in Tent City, Goff said. A handful joined their friends who were working at the College during the summer and who already had access to their rooms. “I don’t blame them,” Goff said, “but I think it would have been more fun if we all embraced sleeping outside.”
With or without Tent City, this year’s orientation trips were a success in the eyes of many. Newman said that COOT is one of the real standout aspects of the College. “The thing is no other school does [orientation] this way: everyone must do it. I think that’s really special…I think it’s one of the few things at Colby that forms the community we all seek.”
Alex Jackson ’15 agreed. After her COOT—Acadia B— she said, “It helped to make adjusting easier because I was able to get to know a small group of people before I was on campus with our class of about 500 students.” Enthusiastic about her experience, she said it is the connections with her leaders and her peers that has helped to make her transition into life on the Hill a smooth one.