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Changes to orientation spark community building

Although residence halls did not officially open until Sep. 5, over seventy students returned to campus on Aug. 23 to begin orientation-leader training.

The extensive training program was developed by Nathan Baird, the Associate Director for Student Engagement,  and Leighton Young `23 over the summer. Orientation leaders trained for hours each day before welcoming the class of 2026 on Aug. 30.

Training included presentations from Emily Schuestebauer, Megan Hatch, and Karlene Burrell-McRae `94. Orientation leaders practiced facilitating discussions, playing team building games, and answering questions about life at Colby.

The members of the Orientation Committee, which is composed of fifteen students, helped oversee training and served as models to orientation leaders. Orientation leaders began training by dividing into smaller groups of 10–12 with one person from the Orientation Committee leading them throughout the week of training. 

“I think the orientation leaders had a really great time and got to meet a lot of new people and learn about the importance of inclusion and collaboration. It was nice to have that firsthand experience and learn facilitation skills in a safe space,” says Maya Sachs `24, a member of this year’s Orientation Committee.

After a week of training, orientation leaders helped first-year students move into their dorms and check in with their families at the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center (HAARC).

Later that day, the student leaders met with their assigned first- year orientation groups, which averaged fifteen students per group. Over the course of the next few days, orientation leaders shared meals with the first-years, led them through community building activities, and reflected on presentations from various deans and professors. 

Lydia Burke `24, while reflecting on her experience as an orientation leader and her time in training, said, “I really loved orientation. I met so many great students in my OLT group, and have remained close with them through the school year. I also loved meeting my first-years, and I’m so grateful to have been able to guide them through this monumental transition.”

First-year students and orientation leaders were also required to read the novel The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Before first-years left for their weekend-long COOT trips, orientation leaders facilitated a discussion between the students and a professor from the College about themes in the novel and how the story relates to the transition into college. 

Although the comprehensive program contained many formal discussions, presentations, and activities, first-year students also had the opportunity to get to know their classmates in a more relaxed setting. This year, the orientation program was redesigned to include more free time and fun activities for first-year students. 

Sachs said, “The orientation program is still relatively new, but something that I thought we did well this year that is slightly different from past years is we got rid of the grit and wit component, which is a team building exercise we ask the first-years to do. [We] replaced it with a bit more free time and fun things such as food trucks, and I think that helped make the orientation experience more enjoyable.”

First-years were also able to enjoy a wellness day following their COOT trip before resuming orientation. Various activities were offered, such as ultimate frisbee, yoga, walks in the Arboretum, and campus tours. 

Many first-years enjoyed the opportunity the program presented to meet other members of their class.

“I liked being able to bond with people I probably wouldn’t have hung out with otherwise. I also think it helped me get used to meeting random people and finding common ground,” said Gian Wagner `26.

He also expressed, however, a desire for less structure and more choice in activities. 

“I thought it was way too structured and scheduled. I had zero free time to relax, do something I wanted to do, or hang out with other friends I had met,” Wagner said.

He hopes that in the future the orientation program will evolve to give first-year students more independence and choice. 

“I’d make it less taxing for both the O Leaders and the first-years, it was a ton of stuff to do and time to spend together. While it was fun, there were definitely a lot of times where we wanted to be choosing our activities for the day. Even if it’s something boring like laundry, at least we would’ve had a say,” Wagner explains.


Maura Thompson `24


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