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First-year experience approaching normalcy after COVID-19 induced hiatus

A little over a year ago, following a nearly six month break from in-person learning, Colby and many other institutions took on the challenge of welcoming students back to campus. Administrators spent months developing comprehensive COVID-19 protocols and redesigning campus life.

This included changing the way students interacted in the classroom, discouraging off-campus travel, limiting the size of events and gatherings, and offering to-go containers in the dining hall. These protocols, along with the rigorous testing and contact-tracing programs, allowed students to continue learning in-person, engaging with their peers, and living on campus.

Although the College avoided the large COVID-19 outbreaks that other institutions grappled with, the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and looming possibility of an outbreak prevented last year’s first-year class from experiencing important programs such as COOT.

This year, the College welcomed over 600 first-years to Mayflower Hill with a new game plan. As nearly the entire student body is vaccinated against COVID-19, administrators hoped to provide a more comprehensive orientation experience to better prepare new students for the upcoming academic year.

The Class of 2025 moved in Aug. 31 for Orientation and COOT. Both of these programs are aimed to help new students bond with their classmates and become familiar with campus before classes begin.

This year’s orientation program lasted three days before students departed for COOT on Sept. 3. Orientation included events such as meetings with the Dean of Studies and Academic Success teams, an introduction to mental health resources on campus, a Grit n’ Wit obstacle course, conversations about sexual misconduct, and fun activities such as an ice cream social and bingo night.

Meals with their Community Advisors and meetings with various administrators gave first-years the chance to ask questions about dorm life, campus culture, and academic and extra-curricular opportunities.

“The Academic Success events were [very] helpful in helping me plan my goals,” Anthony Neils ‘25 said. “I was able to [write them down] and stay organized.”

Students then divided into their COOT groups and participated in a variety of activities, including a yoga retreat, camping, team-building exercises, and obstacle courses.

Students returned from COOT on Sept. 5 before continuing conversations about diversity and inclusion. The next two days were filled with optional activities such as campus and academic building tours, sports games, and outings to the Arboretum and Dairy Cone.

Many first-years have expressed how helpful these programs have been to their overall social, mental, and academic well-being. Jaime Fiedorek `25 appreciated the opportunity to meet and bond with other members of her class while on her COOT trip.

“I really enjoyed it,” she told The Colby Echo. “I had a great group of kids, people I wouldn’t normally expect to meet, and I still talk to a lot of the kids from COOT. It was a great connection because I would not have met them otherwise.”

Ultimately, the improvements to these programs have helped provide the Class of 2025 with more tools and resources for their upcoming year at the College. They are now better prepared to overcome challenges they might face, more aware of the resources available on campus, and can feel supported by their classmates.

~ Maura Thompson `24

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