WOW groups get to know each other after meeting for the first time. Connor Frost | Mustang News

For a year, Cal Poly has been preparing Week of Welcome (WOW) 2018. The nationally-acclaimed orientation program for incoming freshmen and transfer students takes a team of more than 1,000 students to facilitate — many of whom are volunteers.

“Studies show students who participate in orientation are more likely to stay [at the university],” Andrene Kaiwi, the director of New Student and Transition Programs, said. “Most of the program’s success is due to the volunteers.”

From September 16-23, trained student volunteers called WOW leaders will pair up to lead groups of 15 to 30 students through a week of activities and campus events. From visiting local beaches to attending on-campus concerts, WOW groups have a chance to explore all Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo have to offer before classes even begin.

The effort and planning that goes into pulling off this one-of-a-kind orientation program has evolved and changed over the years to fit the needs of the incoming student population.

2018 WOW leaders. Courtesy: New Student & Transition Programs

Preparing for WOW

Board members are chosen one year in advance to prepare the week of events, which typically takes place mid-September. The board members train WOW facilitators during winter quarter, who then spend spring quarter training the hundreds of yellow t-shirt-clad WOW leaders across campus.  

WOW-trained students are also given the option to become an event staff member, another way to help facilitate WOW without leading a group. The event staff help the numerous events going on on campus run smoothly.

For 10 weeks in the spring, more than 1,000 student leaders spent three hours every week in Chumash Auditorium, located in Julian A. McPhee University Union (building 65), learning about their roles and responsibilities as orientation leaders. By the end of training, 920 students remained to lead 320 WOW groups. These WOW leaders-in-training explored leadership styles and had group dynamic training. They even hosted their own mini-WOW for practice, with group numbers, dress-up themes, traditions and chants.

“My WOW leaders were both super invested with our group, even after WOW,” WOW leader and civil engineering sophomore Julia Cannon said. “They created this little family and I’m still close with the people in my group. One of them even became my co-[leader]. I wanted to give back to the program that helped make my first year so memorable, and hopefully pass that on to incoming freshmen.”

WOW facilitators are able to learn about their abilities as effective leaders, managing not only their own group, but also holding one-on-one sessions with each leader-in-training.

“I really like the leadership aspect as well as seeing the personal growth in [leaders-in-training], so having that role was something I really wanted to do,” facilitator and microbiology senior Chris Hammond said. “It is much more of a professional outlook.”

WOW Events

Students can expect to see yearly traditions like the Big Fall Welcome, WOW-a-Rama, and the club showcase at WOW 2018. WOW also includes mandatory presentations on drug and alcohol awareness, mental health, and sexual assault for incoming students. Campus and community organizations hold additional events like movie nights, trivia nights and Associated Students, Inc.’s WOW Concert. Some of these events are free to students, while others have participation fees. 

For the second year, New Student and Transition Programs will offer the Cross-Cultural Experience during WOW, with events geared toward showcasing and discussing diversity and inclusivity on Cal Poly’s campus. The program was designed to offer students with similar experiences a chance to connect. All WOW groups, however, are trained to address diversity and inclusivity. Poly POV is a monologue sketch show centered around the voices and experiences of marginalized identities. Additionally, the Performing Arts Center will hold a screening of “Black Panther” with a Q&A panel to follow.

“We are recognizing that we at this campus have a group of students that are first [generation] and underrepresented minority students,” Kaiwi said. “And we feel that in orientation and in student affairs, we have to make a contribution to their academic success.”

WOW Expenses

The total cost for the WOW program is approximately $1 million. This money comes from a $200 orientation fee for each participating student, as well as donations from fundraising. All of the funds go back into New Student and Transition Programs, paying for food, event space and equipment for WOW, SLO Days, and Open House. It also pays the four staff members who work year-round to prepare for the week.

Students are also advised to bring $25 for the week to pay for various activities and participation fees.

Cal Poly’s orientation programs have won awards from national and on-campus organizations for their success. For more than 50 years, they have provided leadership experience for returning students, as well as in-depth, honest experiences for those just beginning their journey at Cal Poly.

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