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Among the many things that Middlebury seems to do well is introduce its incoming first-year students to the college.  A quick glance at the evaluations students fill out at the end of orientation reveals how delighted they are by the enthusiasm with which they are met by their FYCs and Deans, the speed with which their belongings are moved from their families’ cars into their dorm rooms by assorted cheering bystanders, and the glimpse they are offered of the college’s rich array of academic, social, and extra-curricular experiences.  At the same time, however, these evaluations suggest that we have room to improve upon the model that is now in place, and that a couple of fairly simple questions might best guide this process of change: should we simplify the orientation schedule, and should we make a trip program (such as MOO) available to every incoming student? 

One of the common themes of conversation on campus these days concerns the work/life imbalance that many students, faculty, and staff feel.  Interestingly, when you look at (or experience first-hand) our current orientation schedule, it seems that we are intent from the outset upon introducing students to the pressures of an overloaded schedule.  Because orientation is perceived by many different offices and organizations on campus as the best opportunity to garner students’ attention, we pack into less than a week enough meetings, ice breakers, exams, meaningful discussions, and social activities to keep an average person busy for a month.  What could we gain by reducing the sheer number of orientation week components, allowing students time to settle, forge friendships, and save for the second or third weeks of the semester some of what we now insist upon during week one?

My concern with the college’s current approach to the orientation trips program (MOO and MOO service trips) has to do with inequity and imbalance.  As you are probably aware, students interested in participating in MOO must enter a lottery, because roughly twice as many students as we can accommodate are eager to participate.  This means the initial experience of many entering first-year students is one of exclusivity and random selectivity.  I think we can do better than that!  When you read through both the MOO evaluations and the general orientation evaluations, it becomes clear that MOO trips have an enormous impact on the students who do participate.  It’s not unusual to read (hundreds of times) the words “awesome,” “incredible,” or “changed my life.” While it’s easy to celebrate the experience of these students, shouldn’t we strive to have all students define their opening days at the college in similar terms?  If we could plan a range of meaningful trip experiences that were available to (even required of) all entering first-years, including all international students, all athletes, and yes—even students who were not inclined to hike, canoe, raft or climb-might we further strengthen the sense of community that we strive to build at Middlebury? 

We are currently thinking about revising our first-year orientation schedule, so I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on how we could better focus these trips to meet students’ interests and effectively introduce them to Middlebury and the broader region.  Other ideas for improving orientation are also welcome.

 So, please, leave a comment!

26 Responses to “Re-Orienting Orientation: Guest Blog by Associate Dean of the College, Katy Abbott”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was one of the students rejected from MOO. You’re correct in assuming that this initially gives a negative first impression – I was disappointed. It was my first encounter with Middlebury bureaucracy and it certainly set the tune for future ones. I think it is essential that you open this experience up to more students; I don’t understand why this is not currently possible.
    As for orientation in general: I’m not sure whether there are too many activities, or too many meaningless ones. Smaller group activities would be better for facilitating friendships, so that people don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle. Discussions were great, and dances were fun. More dorm activities, and actual activities (like making fun/funny decorations for your room, such things as occur at other colleges), would really help to create a community atmosphere. Orientation wasn’t too busy necessarily, but for me, it was too meaningless.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think it would exactly be fair to require MOO. I’m an athlete and I feel that when I came early for preseason (instead of going on MOO), it was a really important bonding time for my team. It seemed to me that the girls on the team who went on MOO were then somewhat distanced from the team and never really fit in because they missed that crucial bonding time.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I personally don’t feel left out or as though I missed anything in not going on MOO. I have friends who feel that their MOO trip didn’t have any significant impact on their orientation. Orientation itself was really fun for me, overall. There could be a little more room in the schedule for people to just hang out with their new hallmates, etc.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am another MOO reject, and I am jealous of my classmates who got to know a group of students through this unique experience. I agree that the current system is unfair to a large number of students. I think that the orientation schedule could benefit from some careful weeding to retain only the most meaningful and necessary experiences and make room for kids to adjust to and enjoy their freedom in spontaneous, unorganized ways.

  5. Anonymous says:

    One thing to consider for re-orienting orientation is the fact that it probably isn’t the “best opportunity” for “many different offices and organizations on campus” “to garner students’ attention.” I know I didn’t retain all of the information thrown at me the first couple of days, so maybe thinking about another way to disseminate all that information would be beneficial.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the previous posts that maybe orientation should include more fun activities to be done with your hall and/or roommate rather than all of the info that is thrown at you. I participated in MOO and it was incredible, and I would definitely recommend making it available to more students. However, I don’t think that requiring it would be fair or beneficial. Not all students are interested in doing something like this, and they shouldn’t have to.

  7. anonymous says:

    In terms of the ‘events’ scheduled for orientation week, something I can say was not a good idea right from the get-go was last year’s ‘required summer reading book’ session . It was quite an uncomfortable setting, sitting in bi-hall discussing a book people generally disliked for an hour. Poor Linda Schiffer had to pull teeth to get people to talk! I would x this event from the list.

    As for my thoughts for orientation events in general, I believe that there should be 3-4 strongly encouraged (but not required) events that ease first years into college life, but in a fun way. I remember the “SEX-ED” Improv group that came (the name escapes me) was amazing! Such a good message presented in a very accessible way. Perhaps there should be a similar style forum about staying healthy at middlebury in the midst of a campus full of eating disorders and binge drinking. I think those problems definately need to be addressed right from the get-go. It’s a serious problem that Body image issues run rampant on this campus, especially among women.

    Also, I think students need to receive a clearly marked ‘orientation calendar’ along with the pamphlet, because people can be very excited and disorganized during this time…and need something to just glance at and be able to know what’s going on. JCs should be encouraged to get kids excited about participating in orientation events.

    Thank you.

  8. Ryan Kellett says:

    Yay for guest posts!

    It’s scary when various factions of this school start talking about getting freshmen at orientation. Everyone is competing for attention with the correct thought that, if you get freshmen to sign on early, you have them for four years.

    In the course of an hour yesterday, I saw two students walking down College Street crying. One was on the cell phone talking about her workload, another was talking to a friend about her scheduling.

    If anyone read today’s Campus editorial, the message is clear: slow down. Less truly is more. We are teaching freshmen from the moment they step foot on this campus that they should be doing a thousand things and keep up appearances.

    That said, when you do less, one has to prioritize orientation for freshmen. Who’s to say that the counseling center should get less exposure than a student’s Dean? CCAL over OID? The President ove Dean of Student Affairs office? Making those decisions is tough but quite necessary.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed orientation and felt the endless activities were good to keep us moving. They offered places for new hallmates to go and things to do in lieu of endless streams of awkward intros.

    As one of the countless MOO rejects, I have discussed reasons why MOO isn’t available to all students with MOO coordinators, and I feel that if the program cannot accomodate everyone, maybe it should not exist, since it makes many students feel like they’re missing out on a life-changing experience (and I haven’t heard any people say it was as incredible as promised).

    In regards to international orientation, it seems like many international students form strong ties during this (pretty long) time on campus before the arrival of other students. I know there must me many logistical tasks to complete during this extra orientation, but I feel it often causes international students to exclude themselves from the American students’ company. In the case of one of my suitemates, she is a wonderful person and we would love to spend time with her, but she usually spends weekends with her international friends made during international orientation.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I think the idea to open MOO to more incoming students is a great idea. I participated in MOO and had a wonderful time, and it was great to meet students right away from other Commons. As a reject from being a MOO leader this year, I don’t understand why the program is not expanded. All incoming students who want to participate in MOO should be able to, and it would also allow more upperclassmen to be MOO leaders.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I would reiterate the two points made above. As a non-international, non-MOO, non-preseason athlete, I was in the clear minority in terms of getting here on September 5 and knowing NOBODY. Although this sorted itself out within a couple weeks, it made the first few days far more stressfull than they ought’ve been.

    Alot of people come here thinking that they will be part of a fairly diverse community, yet I would agree that from the get-go, the international students are somewhat seperate as a result of their intensive, extensive orientation. They had already made friendships and want to continue strengthening these ones rather than dealing with the awkwardities of getting to know hallmates etc.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think that offering MOO to the entire student body is necessary or even plausible. Requiring it would be a bad idea. Still, it seems that there should be a way to open it up to more of the students who want to do it, since so many get left out. Also, as far as orientation goes, there definitely was a sense of breathlessness as we were shuffled around from one area to another (particularly if, like me, you didn’t skip events…)
    Things like the Hoedown were a great opportunity to jump in and get to know people in a casual setting, and some of the events (like the Honor Code Pledge signing) were obviously necessary. On the other hand, while the deliberative dialogue was my favorite event, I see no reason it had to be then, specifically.
    All in all, I collected a great many pieces of paper, some of which I still haven’t had time to read. What about simply having another day? If orientation had started a day or two earlier, there would have been more opportunities to relax and get to know people- “unstructured free play,” as the child psychologists call it- and I probably would have absorbed more of the material that was thrown at us.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I agree that the orientation is too over-scheduled and packed with activities. For me, it felt like an unneccessarily intense and sometimes even overwhelming beginning to what is already a stressful transition. For the most part, we were shuttling from activity to activity without gaining much benefit from all of them; I hardly remember anything I did at orientation because it was so busy that it just went by in a blur. Allowing students to settle in on their own terms by limiting the number of required activities would be a positive adjustment to the program as it currently stands. Also, making MOO required is a bad idea. I never attended MOO and don’t feel that I missed out at all or had a harder adjustment as a result. Providing more spaces for those who want to do it would be great, sure, but making it required is unnecessary and even borderline patronizing for college students.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I agree that MOO should be opened up to anyone who wants to go, but definitely not required of all students.
    However, what I feel is much more important in the structuring of orientation is the divisions that are immediately imposed when we get to campus, between the international students, and to a lesser degree the athletes, and the rest of the student population. I understand the logistical necessity of preseason training and international orientation, but I feel that especially with the international students, it goes a long way toward creating a highly isolated subset of the community at a college which claims to strive for (presumably integrated) diversity. I don’t feel that a “diverse” group on campus, which is then rigidly divided into geographic and ethnic categories, is beneficial to anyone. In my personal experience, I really only know one international student well because I spend basically 20/24 hours of each day in her suite (I’m friends with several other people in there). Through her, I have met (though I don’t know well), many other international students, because she spends most of her weekends with them. However, if I didn’t happen to know other members of her suite well and therefore be introduced to her, I doubt if I really would have met a single international student since I got here, because every time I see any of them they are all sitting together at meals or going to parties together on the weekend, or even studying together after class. Obviously, this is not a criticism of international students, but rather the isolation and division which is caused from the outset by Middlebury’s international orientation.
    I apologize for the length of that rant, but it has been on my mind for a while, so Im glad I found a way to communicate it in a hopefully productive way.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I also don’t think that MOO should be required. It’s not a good idea to force people to go into the woods and bond when they really don’t want to. With that said, I think the program should definitely be expanded (though not required). I am another MOO-reject, and I would have really liked the opportunity to make some new friends in a new environment.

    Concerning the orientation on campus, it was definitely busy. However, I like to be kept busy, so I didn’t have a problem with going from one meeting/activity to another.

    What set my orientation experience apart was the fact that I was part of a very small hall (Nunnery in Battell) that did a lot of hall activities. More importantly, we kept doing hall activities throughout the year. While I didn’t become best friends with everyone on my hall, I definitely bonded with a lot of the girls. I think hall activities are an important part of orientation, because they introduce you to people you can be friends with the entire year (and beyond). I would be in favor of cutting down some of the big, more impersonal meetings for more hall-bonding time. The meetings can wait a few days.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I went to Moo and did a seminar last year and I liked both.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I feel that orientation is very intense experience with the same people. I know the commons system is designed to build smaller communities within the greater college community, but I felt that the school was divided into groups of friends that met through the fact that they lived in close proximity and had intense sessions and meeting at orientation with each other that left little room to meet the other new groups of kids across the campus. I feel these pockets and social groups lasted for a long time and still last years later. How about more orientation programs that make a point of breaking up commons groups and getting Allen kids to hang out with Stewart kids for example?

  18. Topher Hunt says:

    I was rejected from MOO but wasn’t distraught by that. I probably would have met more people, orientation would probably have been a bit less hectic and new, but that’s OK.

    I don’t think the answer to the stress and the overscheduling is to “slow down”. The fireworks of various orientation activities that are crammed into the first week give a very clear message to us incomings: College is fun, wild, and hectic, and you’re going to need to learn to cope with the stress. I think that is a very important message to get across. I also think it’s important to address the stress – but not by cutting down on available activities; instead, by placing value in OUR ability to choose for ourselves what is a healthy balance of group activities, unstructured bonding time, and resting time. The overwhelming load of activities available in orientation introduced me to a cruel, cruel, but undeniable reality of college: there will be many more events available to me in a given day than I have time to appreciate. I had to accept that reality and adjust my expectations, and I think many people passed by this opportunity to opt out of some of the activities and find their own pace, hence the “rushed” and “exhausted” feeling some describe. We will make Middlebury students stronger not by denying them the opportunity to whittle down their schedule for themselves, but by informing them that they will have to do so and letting them practice. They’ll need to do so sooner or later; if we fine-tune their schedule for them, we are denying them a chance to learn an important component skill of time management.

  19. Anonymous says:

    MOO should not be required, but it would be really nice to give everyone who wanted to do the opportunity to, as long as that did not keep MOO from being the well-run, well-organized process that it currently is.
    As for the large number of things that happen that first week, it would be good to free up some time for socializing and getting to know the campus, but not to free up too much time because it is a great way to show the new students what Middlebury is really like.

  20. Heidi Schmidt says:

    I agree with everything said above– MOO should absolutely not be required, but should definitely be made open to as many people as possible. Unfortunately, it may be impossible to accommodate every single applicant, but if half of all interested students are being turned away, that needs to be addressed. I’m a sophomore who went on a volunteer service/hiking trip last year, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “life-changing,” it was a very important experience that tested my physical limits and introduced me to a small group of fellow students immediately. While I did not remain close to my MOO group after returning to campus, it was an important transition into finding friends in my dorm, religious organization, and other activities.

    As for how many things go on during orientation– in hindsight, I didn’t feel like there was too much going on, but I definitely accumulated so many brochures, handouts, schedules, and other paperwork over that week that I barely read any of them but didn’t want to get rid of any “in case there was something important.” I also agree that the summer reading assignment was a failure for my commons–awkward is certainly a good word to describe our discussion (or lack thereof). However, I think this has more to do with the book selected than with the program in general– my Wonnacott friends who read The Tipping Point loved it.

    I also agree with Topher that incoming students should be encouraged to prioritize right from the start. I, at least, felt obligated to attend every event, and somewhat guilty when I did not. I wish I had asked my JC or CRA which events were actually crucial and which ones were truly optional. Students should be reassured that missing a few orientation events will not ruin their entire college experience and encouraged to make informed decisions in that regard, not because orientation is unbearably stressful, but because the rest of the college year can be.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I was exited about the prospect of MOO when I first received information on it from the school, however I was unable to get into a trip. I was disappointed and felt a little left out when I arrived on campus (my roommate had attended a MOO trip and had already made friends through that group). While I don’t feel that MOO should be required I think that it should be made more widely accessible to students. Increasing the number and variety of trips would help get more people involved in college life sooner and can eliminate the initial sense of rejection that can be caused by the lottery system.
    As to the busy schedule of orientation week I felt that it was a good jumping off point into college life. It forces you to learn how to make decisions about how you spend your time. I think that it’s better for students to start learning how to balance their schedule early rather then trying to figure it out after classes have already started.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Hands down, MOO should be available to everyone. I was not a MOO reject; however, I was only accepted into the program after coming off the waitlist at the very end of the summer. This was extremely lucky for me. I met one of my best friends at Middlebury on my MOO trip and made many other lasting friendships. It upsets me that this opportunity is not available to everyone that wants to participate. While MOO may not be a “life changing” experience, it provides freshmen with an immediate group of friends to eat lunch with, talk to on the first days of school, or even just to say hi to when you pass them on campus. It helps student adjust to Middlebury and provides students with an opportunity to ask their MOO leaders anything they want about academics, social life, etc. Middlebury needs to revamp its MOO program and make it so that anyone who is interested is guarenteed a spot on a trip.

  23. Sarah F. says:

    At the risk of re-hashing everything that has been said, I’ll be brief:

    1. MOO should not be required. I would have dropped out of Middlebury if you made me go on MOO. Just like I’m not taking a semester off at the risk of having to do Feb ski-down. Scary! (Ok, so I’m being a little extreme; I’m far more outdoorsy than I was when I arrived, but I did it on my own terms! But I will never, ever ski.)

    2. MOO should be available to anyone who wants to go. If you can’t do that, stop hyping it as a life changing experience. My friends who went certainly enjoyed themselves immensely, but no one had earth shattering experiences.

    3. Orientation scheduling is out of hand. I was exhausted by the end of orientation. I needed a week’s vacation afterward, but, alas, I had classes.

    4. Athletes and International students need to be integrated into orientation better. I know so few of them.

    5. I second Ryan Kellett’s “Yay for guest posts!”

  24. Anonymous says:

    I think it would be great if MOO were available to everyone interested, but I can see how that might be impossibly costly or difficult to organize. There is no reason to advertise for MOO so strongly if Middlebury already knows more people will apply than the program can accomodate.

    Although many students (myself included) complained about how hectic Orientation was and how we would have preferred to just relax and make friends on our own, being rushed around campus all week was kind of exciting. We were forced to move and interact. That said, I think more of Orientation should be optional. Also, most of the presentations could be cut down in length without losing any quality.

    I hesitate to suggest adding to Orientation, but there was one area of campus life that should have been mentioned during Orientation but wasn’t. We had presentations on (generalized) discrimination, sexual harrassment, stress, and other fun stuff, but no mention was ever made of the gay community on campus. I’m not suggesting we add an entire presentation about this, but I think a small announcement as part of some more general mandatory meeting would be useful, for two reasons. First, it’s really difficult for many queer students to enter a new environment like Middlebury without knowing anything about the college’s and students’ attitudes on issues tied so closely to their identities. Students may assume silence means intolerance. Second, there have been a few incidents of anti-LGBTQ discrimination on campus in the past couple of years, and the entire freshman class (not just queer students) could benefit from a simple, concise reminder that LGBTQ issues and people are present on campus.

  25. Feb Dad says:

    Interesting thread. Question – do Feb’s miss out completely on these MOO opportunities?

  26. ronl says:

    Feb Dad: There are “FOO” trips, which stands for Feb Outdoor Orientation….

    See:

    http://www.middlebury.edu/campuslife/activities/outdoor/FOO+Home.htm

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