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Student orientation leaders play vital role in annual success of the program

September 11, 2018

By S.A. Reid, Consulting Writer, Campus Life Communications

Emory's annual fall Move-In and Orientation are now in the books for 2018-19 -- a year that has seen the arrival of a record number of new students. This fall, the university welcomed the 1,973 members of the Class of 2022, Emory's largest ever, to the Atlanta and Oxford campuses.

Each year, the institution takes great care to ensure that first-year members of the Emory community enjoy the best possible first-year Emory experience. The annual preparation for student Move-In and New Student Orientation is the work of a partnership that includes a range of Campus Life organizations -- Residence Life, Housing Operations, Dining Services, and more -- as well as other university divisions.

"Orientation prepares students to begin their academic careers at Emory College and connects them to the larger Emory community," said Michael Toney, director of Orientation in the Office for Undergraduate Education (OUE). He added that the ongoing success of the four-day program, which begins when new students move into their residence halls, would not have been possible this year or any other without the able hands of a select group of trained Campus Life student volunteers.

 Orientation leaders help students move into residence halls
Calleigh Lucas, on left, a senior majoring in business administration, and Geoffrey Yang, a junior majoring in chemistry, were among the orientation leaders, identifiable by their signature yellow shirts, who assisted students with Move-In and Orientation. Photo by Tina Chang.

OUE and Campus Life partner to deploy orientation leaders (OLs) and captains. Last month, 100 OLs welcomed new students, helped them move in, escorted them around campus, planned late-evening events, and led small-group sessions.

Toney is pleased with the collaboration and partnerships OUE has established across Campus Life departments and considers student orientation leaders to be critical to helping new students feel at home on campus.

"We work closely with our partners in Campus Life," Toney added. "We're really happy to have that relationship and to have one as effective as it is."

"OLs are the primary hands and feet for moving in all of our new students," said Becka Shetty, associate director of Student Involvement, Leadership, and Transitions (SILT), a Campus Life organization.

"OLs also play an essential role is helping new students find comfort, community, and a way of being at Emory socially," added Shetty, who is responsible for recruiting, selecting, and training OLs in partnership with OUE. "In that way, they help Campus Life support OUE's mission of facilitating student academic success."

With this year's Orientation complete, Shetty's office already has begun looking for the next group of students to serve as orientation leaders and captains for 2019-20. The volunteer job, she advised, isn't for everyone. The ideal candidate is a hard-working, humble, and enthusiastic self-starter with an interest in servant leadership.

Eight orientation captains -- students with previous OL experience -- help staff to select new OLs by spring break and later help train them. Among other things, orientation captains must also enroll in a for-credit peer leadership and mentoring class.

The volunteers undergo five days of training of up to 12 hours each before Move-In Week and Orientation, which may demand 14-hour days. And that's in addition to participating in a spring retreat.

So, why do Emory students volunteer work long hours for no pay during Orientation?

RAs, SAs, and orientation leaders team up to make Move-In and Orientation a success every year.
Orientation leaders (in yellow shirts), team up with sophomore advisors (SAs) and residence advisors (RAs), also pictured above, to make Move-In and Orientation a success every year. RAs and SAs are Residence Life student staff who live in residence halls and work with students daily throughout the academic year. Photo by Tina Chang.

Abbey Kelly, a senior marketing and creative writing major also studying business administration, was an orientation captain this fall and an orientation leader her sophomore and junior years. Kelly's first-year experience motivated her to step into a leadership role as a resource for incoming students. She says it makes a huge different the first year to have someone who looks out for you and helps you navigate.

"My orientation leader was super engaged in the process and became a huge mentor for me throughout the year and beyond in terms of encouraging me to get involved on campus," Kelly said. "He told me I didn't have to wait until I'm a senior to make my mark on campus. It kind of surprised me that a student that I hardly knew could have that kind of impact on me."

According to Neil Shahdadpuri, he didn't know how to dance when he arrived at Emory. But his orientation leader persuaded him to join the dance team his first year on campus.

"She helped me break out of my boundaries to try something new and enjoy the college experience," said the orientation captain and senior accounting and consulting major who, like Kelly, served as an orientation leader his sophomore and junior years.

For Shahdadpuri, it is a way to serve the Emory community. "Giving that kind of experience to other Emory students is what makes me happy," he said. "Just having that type of group to mentor, it really does have an impact."

Shahdadpuri gives Emory high praise for the lengths it goes to make all students feel welcome and supported. He is especially complementary of the staff from OUE and Campus Life for their dedication and the leadership they provide.

Ben Meiner, a senior biology major and fall 2018 orientation captain, also embraced the opportunity to pay forward the positive impact that OLs had on him during Orientation and beyond.

"I just think Orientation is a great program to help make the transition into Emory as smooth as possible," said Meiner. "As a new student, getting that experience was really helpful to me, and I wanted to help other students feel prepared and ready for Emory."