Ready to Hope: Directing Freshmen to Success

School has started! As a returning student this statement can seem like a no-brainer. A new year begins; new books to buy, new readings that should have been done before classes
started; rinse, wash repeat. Wrapped up in my own work, I can easily overlook the swath of new faces that stand between me and my next class. But that would be a mistake. After
all, these new students are bringing new philosophies, ideals and standards which will guide the shaping of Hope College for the next years to come. But while the Campus article
focused on the voices of these incoming freshmen I wanted to take a slightly different route. I wanted to examine exactly what the new Hope Students are going to shape. To do so
I interviewed seniors Alicia Leitzen and Mimi Stall to learn more about their position as Orientation Directors and find out how Hope prepares its freshmen for the years to come.
After all, if they are to take the reins of Hope College for the next four years, they need to learn how to ride first.

“I applied for this job in October of last year (my junior year). I remember meeting the orientation directors my freshman year and I thought that was really cool and something I wanted to do, so I decided to apply.” This is Mimi Stall, a pre-med student majoring in biology with minors in biochemistry and psychology. She describes her introduction into being an orientation director like this: “It was an application and an interview and I was lucky enough to be chosen, so I feel pretty special.”

Her Co-Orientation Director Alicia had similar sentiments. She discussed the applications that took place November of last year. “I’m so so glad I did it. I never planned to apply for the job.
It just sort of came up on my radar a couple weeks before the application was due, and I said I’ll give it a shot, but working in student life was just a complete joy.” It became actively apparent to me why they were selected for their positions as Mimi casually described the amount of work directing orientation was.

“I worked all summer to plan the whole weekend, so my responsibilities started second semester last year. It was a forty hour a week job. [We did] everything from emails to speakers, to EMS room reservations; to planning the fun things like what activities we want, or the food truck or the T-shirt design.” They also oversaw hiring the “27 Assistant Directors and then one hundred and fifty Orientation Assistants.” These assistants would fulfill a vital intermediary roll as Alicia would go on to explain. “We had three months to prepare. Our AD’s [assistant directors] came and we trained them. And then they used those tools to train the Orientation Assistants and then the OA’s of course actually get to interact with the students.”

“To be able to lead the Assistant Directors and then the Orientation Assistants was so wonderful because those students volunteer their time because they genuinely care about the new students and helping them get acclimated to Hope, which is great because they’re all wonderful leaders and they’re so willing to help.” In addition to hiring student staff, Orientation Directors have to recruit speakers to talk at Orientation events. Mimi elaborated on this for me. “There’s a framework from last year. There’s always family information sessions, that’s like your student athlete, so that’s gonna be the athletic director; or building your community is when president Voskuil spoke. We have those who have done it in the past or those we think will fill that role”.

I was immediately curious on how they determined who best would fill speaker rolls. Fortunately, Mimi had an example in mind “One of the topics was on involvement, so our friend Kelly
spoke on that. She’s extremely involved but also knows the balance. There’s more to school than the schoolwork but also say no when you need to.” Kelly’s words of acceptance
and balance seemed to be a theme of orientation, both in the changes that were made this year and the takeaways prepared for freshmen as Alicia elaborated.

“One thing that I’m proud of, it was small, but I felt like it made a huge difference. We have Playfair, which is an event we do during orientation. It’s basically like a giant ice-breaker where you try and meet as many people as you can in as short a time as possible. Sometimes that can be super overwhelming if you’re not an extrovert. And we have this event right after Playfair that takes place in the Bultman Student Center and it’s called the Post-Playfair party and that can also be a wildly extroverted event. So we had another event that was downstairs that was dedicated to people who might be feeling exhausted from all of that personal action.”

Alicia was particularly focused on making sure students coming from orientation felt like they belonged and could get involved even though they’re different “Sometimes people feel that a lot of us here are the same, but something that we try to bring out in our training is that no matter what your background is, no matter what your current state with faith or financial situation is, you can exist here at Hope College”

Mimi also finished her interview on this ideal of belonging, but added a slightly different note. “I took a while to find my place at Hope. Hope really brought out a lot of good things in me, but I didn’t necessarily know that for a while. So I had to wait.” When I asked how she found those good things about herself she reflected for a moment and then responded: “Time. Believing in myself I think, too.”

She then brought up her speech to the new freshmen. “We set you up for success and sometimes it comes faster or slower and so you just have take time, let it happen, and see where time takes you. It will happen; you just have to see when it will” Indeed we will have to see where time takes the freshmen through their years at and after Hope, but coming from these interviews with the Orientation Directors, I am confident that they at least have that first step.

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