Marketing and Communications
Orientation Leaders help new Falcons SOAR
They begin arriving in May, carloads of incoming students and their families, groggy from waking early, in unfamiliar territory, excited but anxious about beginning the college orientation and registration process.
Luckily for BGSU, when it comes to welcoming its newest members, the University has that all sewn up. The 20-plus students who serve as Orientation Leaders provide a warm welcome backed up by solid training and in-depth knowledge of the campus.
“We’re the first ones to interact with them when we greet them in the parking lot. We pass them along all the way to their first stop,” said Greg Gantt, a junior from Akron majoring in sports management with a minor in public relations. “Right away we make them feel comfortable and accepted and let them know we’ll be there for them all day.”
Working long hours throughout the summer, sometimes even on Saturdays, these students handle each stage of the Falcon Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) campus visit, from check-in to tours to informational panel discussions, assisting both students and families. For incoming students, they are the face of the University.
“They are the constant contact for incoming students throughout the day across campus,” said Jessica Huddleston, assistant director of new student orientation and first-year programs. ”They are the ones incoming students and their families want to hear from. We wouldn’t be able to provide such a high-quality program without them.”
A recent SOAR day saw families filing into an information session in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union, guided and welcomed by orientation leaders. Many paused to ask the student guides questions, which were readily and reassuringly answered.
Students and their families on campus for orientation often feel vulnerable, unsure of what will be expected of them and nervous about their upcoming separation from one another. The leaders play an important role in making the experience a positive one.
“It’s important to give the right answers. We take a whole semester to train in the spring, plus another week in May before SOAR begins,” said Michael Reilly, a senior from Dover majoring in math education who is also a campus tour guide. “We fill that gap between the faculty and staff and the students, and we can help faculty get information to students. The students are sometimes more comfortable talking to us.”
The two-credit leadership class orientation leaders must take teaches them to look first at themselves and build upon their strengths, he said. In addition to learning about the University and its resources, they connect as a team and discover one another’s areas of special expertise.
“I’m an education major and was in GeoJourney, so I can speak to those areas, but we also have leaders who’ve been in Dance Marathon, Undergraduate Student Government, study abroad and even a past Frieda Falcon, so I can point people to them,” Reilly said.
“Sometimes I don’t realize I’m helping someone, but even the smallest things you do make a big impact,” said Jessica Alt, a senior from Delphos majoring in human development and family studies with a minor in psychology. Like Reilly, she is also a team leader, in her second year with SOAR. “My very first orientation, last year in May, I had a single mom and daughter in my group; I could relate to that situation from my own life. I spent quite a few hours with them, and when they left, they both gave me a big hug.
“I’m also a campus tour guide and I’ve had families back for orientation say, ‘You were our tour guide!’ And one of the girls who went through SOAR with me last year became a leader this year.”
All the Orientation Leaders encourage incoming students to get involved with campus activities, especially in response to the often-asked questions “Will I make friends?” and “Will I like BG?”
“I tell them you get back what you put in,” Gantt said. “Being involved is the biggest key to enjoying BG. There are over 300 student organizations; there’s something for everyone.”
“I tell them the same thing,” Alt said, adding humorously, “Maybe not as crazy involved as I am, but even one or two things give students a reason to be here and not go home every weekend.”
Prospective Orientation Leaders go through a highly selective process that includes group and individual interviews, in addition to recommendations. “They must be academically proficient, approachable, dependable, energetic and responsible,” Huddleston said.
The leaders are from diverse backgrounds, both academically and personally, but most are already highly involved with the University, either as resident advisers, tour guides or in student organizations, she said.
They also seem to share the qualities of empathy and the desire to help others. “I wanted to be able to give back to incoming students. When I came here I was very dependent on my parents and very scared,” recalled Reilly.
Being an Orientation Leader pays dividends in several ways, in addition to the warm feeling from helping someone else. “It’s helped my public speaking skills and teaches me to think on my toes,” Gantt said. “It’s also made me more proud of BGSU, knowing all that it offers.”