Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Cal Poly’s 2020 award-winning orientation program Week of Welcome (WOW) was entirely virtual.

WOW was held Sept. 10 through 13, which is shorter than the seven days students have participated in previous years.

In a Zoom call with Mustang News, Director of the New Students and Transition Programs (NSTP) Andrene Kaiwi, along with orientation board members Alyssa Gonzalez and Isaiah De Leon described about adapting the program to an all-virtual format.

Preparation for the orientation program begins in the Spring and due to the virtual Spring quarter, they were already preparing both physically and mentally for a partially virtual or entirely virtual program. 

“I think we were all nervous,” psychology senior Gonzalez said. “But we have a really good team that we worked with this whole year that made us feel better about putting it on.” 

Mechanical engineering senior De Leon said that the level of uncertainty that was present towards the beginning of the pandemic was difficult on their planning process. In past years, WOW consists of a mixture of entertainment-based, bonding events and mandatory educational programs, which they were able to transfer into a virtual format.

De Leon is the co-chair for the events, resources and logistics committee, so he was involved in planning events for WOW. One of the virtual events that were held this year was “Zoo to You,” where different exotic zoo animals were shown to the students over zoom, and the students were able to interact and ask questions. Another event held was an interactive magic show put on by Cal Poly student Elliot Hunter. 

De Leon said that although they did not have as many events as they normally would, they put a lot of effort into giving students a variety of events to choose from. 

The activities ranged from high energy social activities to more relaxed and easy-going events in order to give every student the opportunity to choose what suited them best, according to De Leon.

Gonzales helped plan the educational, mandatory events the students attended. The main four presentations were about drugs and alcohol, diversity and inclusion, sexual harassment and violence as well as the “Awareness Gallery” which was visual culmination of all of the topics. 

“We were very concerned about making sure everyone’s mental well-being was a priority because there are a lot of heavy topics covered,” she said. 

Gonzales said that while she felt the presentations were still impactful in a virtual format, but it was harder to gauge the reactions and emotions of the students who participated.

“We made sure that throughout the presentations, and especially during the Awareness Gallery, that there were resources [students] could turn to during it,” Gonzales said.

She explained that in person, it is much easier to see if a student is uncomfortable or upset during a presentation and it is harder to do that over Zoom, especially if students have their cameras off. 

Psychology junior Arushi Tewari, business administration sophomore Luca Balbi and public health senior Grace Vandervolt were all WOW leaders this year. They said they all became leaders after having their own positive experiences as “WOWies,” and they said wanted to give back to the new students in the hopes of providing them with an equally positive time. 

Balbi said that he had considered quitting after it was announced that WOW would be entirely virtual, but he soon realized that there were too many other leaders making that same decision.

“[My partner and I] decided that we would go through with it because these kids deserve the best experience possible,” Balbi said.

Tewari said that while an in-person orientation would have been preferred, considering all of the limitations they were placed upon them, she said it was not bad. 

Tewari’s group had about three to four people showing up consistently, which made it hard for her to do group activities.

“I feel like the overall quality would’ve been better if more people had shown up, but I know it’s tough, you can’t force people to come,” she said.

Chemistry freshman Daphne Moon is one of the WOWies in Tewari’s group. She said that the lack of attendance in the group made things more difficult.

“It was difficult to truly create a community, if it was in-person there would have probably been more accountability,” Moon said.

Environmental engineering freshman Zada Arias, a WOWie in Vandervort’s group, said she had a much more social experience with around 10 students showing up consistently to the program.

“I was surprised that it went so well, my group was really talkative and we all got along really well,” Arias said.

The Cross Cultural Experience (CCE) is a track of WOW that seeks to create connections between students that identify with underrepresented groups, according to the website.

CCE Leader Kara Thompson said she was able to uphold the values of the program in a virtual format this year.

Every day there were CCE specific events that allowed the students to connect over activities or discussions. The experience of the students really depended on how much they were willing to engage with the activities, Thompson said.

“We had places for them to make connections and be introduced to each other, it was just whether or not they decided they wanted to do that in the virtual environment,” Thompson said.

If WOW were to be virtual next year, De Leon — along with Kaiwi and Gonzales — said they would want to improve the level of communication they had with orientation leaders.

“People are going to lose an email, or not read an email, so information gets lost at way higher rates,” De Leon explained.

De Leon said that he knows there are people who did not enjoy it, but he also knows that there are people who really did.

“I really want to think that we touched at least some people at [Cal] poly,” De Leon said.

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