WOA brings new students into the CMC fold with rafting, multi-sport trips, camping, urban exploration.
Part of the CMC credo is to encourage students to continually challenge themselves, searching for new perspectives and perhaps along the way, deeper insight. And each year the Welcome Orientation Adventure (WOA) underscores that belief as it seeks to nudge incoming students out of their comfort zone as they begin their college careers.
Starting on the third day of first year orientation, WOA is four days and three nights of adventure; this year from August 22-25.
WOA began in the mid-1990s as a student initiative called Wilderness Outdoor Adventure that was intended to get new students off campus before starting at CMC. As the program grew, it was brought under the purview of the Dean of Students Office during the 2002-2003 academic year. In 2014, the name was changed to Welcome Orientation Adventure and expanded to trips that were not all wilderness focused. There were 10 trips in 2003; 17 trips this year. Last year, approximately 360 new students participated in WOA; this year there were 340.
“WOA was an opt-in program until 2015 when the Dean of Students Office made WOA accessible for everyone and included it in the formal Orientation program,” says Kari Rood, Assistant Director of Student Activities. “This year there were 17 trips with varying activities in different locations. Some activities included rafting, multi-sport trips, camping, and urban exploration. The variety of trips seeks to meet the needs and preferences of our entire incoming class while emboldening students as they enter CMC to take part in activities that maybe wouldn’t occur to them on their own.”
Planning for WOA each year begins in early spring. Campsites and excursions are booked beginning in February. At the center of the program is the staff of First Year Guides (FYGs) that are hired during the spring semester. The FYGs – 64 this year – are sophomores, juniors, and seniors who lead the student groups throughout the entire on- and off-campus orientation experience.
The FYG (pronounced “fig”) component was instituted last year and combines the roles of the “WOA leader” and the “Sponsor” into a single position that provides support during orientation and throughout the year. The change also extends to the types of trips offered during WOA. In the past, the excursions were more rugged and wilderness-oriented; now they are geared to all types of participants and all skill/fitness levels.
Rood says three to four FYGs are typically assigned for each group of approximately 20 new students. “Our FYGs represent a wide array of backgrounds and involvement on campus,” she says. “After classes begin, these leaders shift into a mentoring capacity for the entire first year. They meet with their groups once each month to check in and provide continued support as students settle into college life.”
Veteran FYGs Weronika Konwent ’17 and Eliana Keinan ’17 guided and mentored students on two of the off-campus trips that were part of WOA this year. Both women led their groups on camping excursions; Konwent to Refugio State Beach and Keinan to the beach at Point Mugu State Park. Destinations for past trips have included hiking San Gorgonio Mountain and rafting on the American River.
“I love meeting new people,” says Konwent, an Organismal Biology major, “and usually in this position the incoming students are really excited and willing to make new friends. I also know I have a lot of institutional knowledge and advice as a senior, and I really enjoy the idea of paying it forward and letting people know about all of the cool things I've discovered about this place over the last three years.”
Keinan, an Economics and Mathematics dual major, concurs. “My favorite part of being a FYG specifically related to WOA is how it starts my year on such a high-energy, exciting note and how fun it is to share my love of CMC with incoming students,” she says. “I think it is really exciting to have the opportunity to set the tone for the incoming students' year and overall college careers, both through creating a fun, warm environment and also through laying down the foundation for important discussions and ideas to continuously develop.”
According to Konwent and Keinan, being an FYG during WOA is exhausting but worthwhile. Duties include planning the day’s activities, facilitating bonding between students, helping to cook meals and answering questions about CMC and college life.
“We're there to show the way,” Konwent says, “and to help the new students feel that they have a place at CMC.”
Keinan says that she became an FYG for two reasons, to create for others an electrifying experience like she had when coming to CMC as a freshman. “It can be hard to transition into a new environment and being there to support incoming students is an important and rewarding role,” she says. “The second reason was that it is a great way to feel connected to the freshmen class. In a community as inclusive and interconnected between grades as CMC is, this is incredibly important to me and something that can sometimes be hard from the start of the school year, especially as a senior.”
For Konwent, one of the prime benefits of WOA is that FYGs are “forced” to spend time with about 20 people without the distractions of technology or responsibilities. “This usually leads to friendships, and at least to knowing about 20 people when you officially begin school,” she says. “It can be scary to come to college, and knowing that there are people out there who know your name and are a resource to ask to dinner or to compare classes or help with dorm room decorations, can be a huge relief.”
And what is the benefit of WOA from the new student perspective?
“I think it allows them to air all of their doubts before coming on campus,” Konwent says, “and see that their peers are in many ways similar to themselves.”
“WOA allows you to create close connections with people,” Keinan adds, “and come back to campus ready and excited to be at CMC with all these incredible people.”