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!