Despite New Student and Transition Programs’ (NSTP) shift to a virtual spring training for orientation leaders, group facilitators kept the spirit of Tuesday night meetings alive. Facilitators’ role was to prepare leaders-in-training (LITs) to lead incoming students during SLO Days and Week of Welcome (WOW).
From hosting LIT speed-dating icebreakers to sending videos of pets via GroupMe, facilitators continued making personal connections with LITs.
Spring training was also an evaluation process, testing LITs’ dedication and representation to NSTP, ability to facilitate small group discussions and relationship building skills.
Thirty-four facilitators developed new methods of evaluating 846 LITs to mold the next generation of orientation leaders.
Facilitator and English sophomore Amber Moss led Group 15. Moss said she saw each one of her LITs grow throughout spring training, despite unpredictability regarding SLO Days and Week of Welcome (WOW).
“With all of the uncertainty, it’s hard to go through weekly training and put in effort when you don’t know what the outcome will look like,” Moss said. “The LITs putting in effort for these new students is inspiring.”
Moss said she included time for relationship building during every Tuesday night meeting, such as a conversation-starter game of LIT speed-dating. Moss separated LITs into Zoom breakout rooms and prompted each with a question, from “If you were to have dinner with any celebrity, who would it be?” to “What brand of water tastes best?”
Moss said Zoom conversations can be awkward compared to face-to-face conversations, however she noticed her group begin to form personal relationships as time passed.
After Tuesday night meetings, Moss and other facilitators sent a recap email to all training students covering the previous week’s material. Within the recap email, facilitators often hid tasks for LITs to discover.
One week, Moss hid a task in the recap email instructing her LITs to send a positive message in the GroupMe. The LITs sent a variety of messages, from inspirational quotes to a video of an LIT’s hamster chasing a cherry tomato.
Throughout Cal Poly’s virtual Spring quarter, Group 42 facilitator and forestry sophomore Rachel Baer said NSTP remained dedicated to spring training’s success.
“From the beginning, NSTP, the team and facilitators have developed the mentality of ‘We’re all in this together,’ and supporting one another,” Baer said.
Facilitators worked towards preparing for spring training beginning in winter quarter, according to NSTP coordinator Bri Pechacek. Pechacek said the team was built upon leaders who showed a strong dedication to relationship building and new student success.
“We are looking for students who embody the Mustang Way and love, empathy and respect — students who form relationships really easily, have clear communication skills, approach problems in a collaborative way and engage in uncomfortable conversations,” Pechacek said.
As Cal Poly announced a virtual spring quarter, she said, the NSTP office quickly adapted to plan a virtual spring training, rehauling and reimagining the program.
“We had to make decisions pretty fast,” Pechacek said.
Pechacek said throughout spring training, facilitators showed great resilience and problem-solving skills, all while sharing ideas and working together as one cohesive team.
For example, some facilitators wondered how to manage two separate breakout rooms during processing sessions to ensure proper evaluation for all LITs.
While facilitators hosted Zoom meetings from their computers, one facilitator suggested adding their phone to the Zoom meeting. Since facilitators had access to two devices, they could manage both breakout rooms at once. Thus, facilitators could be in two places at the same time.
“That is something that characterizes great leadership,” Pechacek said. “It has been really cool to see the facilitators step up and show ingenuity and innovation in these spaces.”
Group 15 facilitator and business administration sophomore Gavin David said one challenge of a virtual spring training was processing heavier topics within facilitator groups.
“It is difficult. No matter how hard you try to set the tone, you don’t have control of the LITs’ physical environment,” David said.
David said some LITs may not have felt comfortable sharing personal experiences, as many may have shared a room with siblings or were surrounded by family when they attended Tuesday night Zoom meetings.
“You don’t have control of how safe they feel sharing with those around them,” David said. “It’s harder to get those more genuine, deeper responses.”
Moss said her initial concern was whether or not training would be as effective online as in person.
“I had to get rid of that thought process to adapt and take on this challenge,” Moss said. “It’s hard to do a great job with the situation you’re given if you think of the what-ifs.”
Moss said while facilitators trained for their position beginning in Winter quarter, learning how to operate Zoom posed challenges. With the help of collaboration from WOW Board and other facilitators, Moss is now confident in her abilities to host Zoom meetings.
“I’m not tech savvy and this role challenged me to learn about Zoom,” Moss said. “That’s a point of growth I’m really proud of.”
Moss said from being a WOWie to a WOW leader to a Facilitator, she was challenged by NSTP to grow as a Cal Poly student.
“Being a Zoom facilitator is just another memorable part of that for me,” Moss said.
On June 7, 846 LITs graduated from spring training and became orientation leaders.
While David and other facilitators may not have met their LITs in person, David said he is proud of their progress throughout spring training.
“They are knocking it out of the park and surprising me with how amazing they are,” David said. “I am so glad to have had such a wonderful group of LITs.”
Regardless of fall quarter’s format, whether in-person, virtual or hybrid, there will still be new students to welcome to Cal Poly. Pechacek said NSTP is overwhelmingly thankful for all students involved in orientation this year, including facilitators and LITs.
“There aren’t accurate words to express the gratitude that NSTP has for their adaptability and flexibility during such an unknown and turbulent time,” Pechacek said.
Baer said despite the virtual spring training format, this year’s new orientation leaders are prepared for whatever challenges come their way.
“Our expectations are not changing, I’ve given feedback and seen growth and perseverance,” Baer said. “The virtual format is encouraging people to put their best selves out on Zoom and I am confident in the orientation leaders that will be coming out this year.”