WOA trips take CMC Class of ’21 off campus and on community-building adventures

When CMC’s class of 2021 arrived at the College, they didn't stay on campus long. The day after Move In Day, first-year students headed off to the Welcome Orientation Adventure (WOA), an annual CMC tradition that takes them to different locales around Southern California for three days of bonding and community building before they settle in on campus.

WOA started in 1997 as a completely student-guided effort for incoming CMCers to meet their peers and develop friendships prior to the academic year. CMC students conceived the concept and executed it on their own, and incoming students could opt-in if they wanted. Early trips aligned with CMC’s overall mission — to build a supportive community through student leadership and collaboration. The adventures, which were outdoor oriented - think hiking, camping, and surfing - took full advantage of the region’s unique geography.

These days, WOA is mandatory and there are 17 trips to choose from, so the 360 incoming students were able to choose one that appealed to their interests. To this day, the outdoor adventure theme still applies to many of the trips, but students wanting to explore one of Claremont’s neighboring metropolitan areas have the option to visit Los Angeles or San Diego.

Regardless of where the first-year students go on their trips, the use of electronics is limited in hopes that they disconnect and form meaningful connections.

“You immediately bond and create a group of friends,” said rising sophomore Luis Salazar ’20. “And when you return to campus, you’re going to see a familiar face - whether it’s on the North Quad, Mid Quad, or South Quad.”

Parents need not worry, the First Year Guides accompanying each trip maintain a direct line of communication with the Dean of Students office. While the DOS office facilitates WOA as part of new student Orientation, student leadership still plays a defining role in the planning, coordinating, and overall execution of the trips. From hiring FYGs to selecting trip destinations, First Year Program intern Chloe Amarilla ’19, was there to organize this year’s activities.

Amarilla did much of the groundwork needed for both WOA and Orientation as a whole, supporting the DOS office and providing critical insight from her perspective as a returning student. The process started with hiring FYGs — she reviewed candidate applications and assisted with interviews. During the summer, she visited each potential WOA site to make sure it was equipped with the essentials needed for a safe trip.

She assigned incoming students and FYGs to their respective groups – generally four or five FYGs per 20 first-year students - and worked on revamping the FYG training manual while also playing a leading role during training week.

Since FYGs have gone through the WOA and Orientation process before, they work to create a welcoming atmosphere and an open dialogue, so when first-year students return from WOA, they have a sense of community and a support system on campus. The FYG role is a fairly new one - something of a hybrid combining the WOA Leaders of trips past with the Sponsors program, which helped students navigate their first year at CMC. The DOS office created a comprehensive training program to encompass both functions.

FYGs arrived on campus a week before the WOA trips, and spent much of that time in workshops teaching a wide variety of skillsets applicable to the WOA trip and the upcoming school year. Specific to WOA, training covered the hands-on aspects of leading a trip, such as meal planning and accommodating dietary restrictions, initiating group activities and dialogue workshops, and travel logistics, as well as safety imperatives like CPR and first aid certification.

From the moment they greet new students on Move In Day, FYGs have a dynamic position on campus, and training week prepares them well for this. The diversity and inclusion workshops, and the information they learn about GE classes, make them a valuable resource for fellow students. Imagine a camp counselor, adventure guide, mentor, advocate, and scholar to support first-year students in all aspects of life at CMC.

FYGs are there to assure new students that they’re not alone, and Amarilla kept this in mind when she overhauled the training manual.

“It’s okay to be vulnerable, especially in the first weeks of being on campus,” she said. “And it’s O.K. to ask for help. Your FYGs are super knowledgeable.”

For returning students like Sydney Baffour ’20, FYGs played a seminal role in developing the College’s community atmosphere during her first days at CMC. Now a FYG herself, Baffour stills talks to FYGs from her first WOA trip. Since the trip is one of the first experiences incoming students will have with the CMC community, she wants to make it a great one.

“That’s what brought me to the decision to apply [for the FYG position],” she said. “I want to give the same experience that I had on WOA to incoming students.”