Photo by Samantha Sullivan
For Orientation Programs, Week of Welcome (WOW) is perhaps the biggest event of the year. However, being a WOWie isn’t the only way to be involved.
Anthropology and geology alumnus Scott Kjorlien was one of eight Orientation Programs executive board members this past year and will be “finishing his reign” come fall. Business administration senior Jessica Ordonez is an Orientation for United Raza (OUR) Leader, similar to WOW, but targeted at low-income students. Finally, business administration senior Lauren Heckendorn is an orientation team member and on the promotions, marketing and communications committee.
Getting involved in Orientation Programs
Kjorlien got involved in orientation programs as a sophomore because his roommate at the time was a WOW leader.
“I found purpose and meaning helping these students transition,” Kjorlien said. “I had a poor transition, so I wanted to help give students the mentor I didn’t have.”
Ordonez participated in OUR her freshman year at Cal Poly, which helped her transition, she said.
“Especially coming from a school that’s 80 to 90 percent Hispanic to one with not that many, it helped me connect with students with a similar background,” she said.
Heckendorn wanted to be a part of something on campus, but struggled to find her niche, she said. Finally, she landed on becoming an orientation leader.
“I wanted to help students feel comfortable with the transition,” she said. “I’ve seen the behind the scenes, and that’s what keeps me coming back.”
Preparing for WOW
For Kjorlien, preparation began in August 2012. Fall, he said, is all about hiring the orientation team in order to train the future leaders. Kjorlien estimates he had 20 or more interviews a week to select the 60-member team from 120 applicants.
Kjorlien and the rest of the board spent their winter quarter developing training for the team. Part of that challenge was coming up with new ways to train that would keep the process exciting, he said.
Kjorlien also took on many behind-the-scenes tasks, including finding “swag” for SOAR and WOW, managing the orientation website, writing press releases, doing some graphic design work and much more, he said.
Another challenge Kjorlien faced was building relationships — keeping 60 people working together in a fun and productive way.
“It’s an interesting challenge to manage peers,” he said. “It’s such a fragile line between role model and peer.”
For Ordonez, the process has also been a long one. She and other OUR leaders spent this past spring fundraising for their “OURies” to make the program more affordable for them. Ordonez said she has tried to be more involved with training this year, participating in SOAR as well as showing leaders different activities to do with their OURies. She also assists the coordinators in planning events for the week.
Ordonez has also made a point to become more involved on campus and knowledgeable of the resources available through campus.
“I’m trying to get everything ready for them to have the best, positive experience,” she said. “We want to motivate them to be OUR leaders in the future.”
Heckendorn works on the events and entertainment committee and has been planning events for orientation programs through this past year. Recently, she has focused on events directly for WOW, she said.
“I’ve been in communication with clubs, contacting companies trying to get them to come in,” she said. “I feel more responsible and more ownership over the events.”
Being a part of Orientation Programs has taught Kjorlien about relationship building and running behind-the-scenes operations that will help him in the business world, he said. He believes people who are involved develop as leaders and enhance skills they may not have had before, he said.
“It’s a program that what you put into it is what you get out of it,” he said. “I put in a lot; some would say I’ve majored in WOW or orientation.”
Working with Orientation Programs has helped Ordonez grow as a person and be more responsible, she said. In addition to developing skills for the workforce, Ordonez now sees herself as a role model and leads by example.
“I used to be pretty shy and never could see myself in a panel talking to 400 students,” Ordonez said. “I did that with SOAR.”
While Heckendorn has always been responsible for herself, orientation team has made her responsible for others, she said. Signing a paper saying someone deserves to be an orientation leader is a lot of responsibility, she said.
In addition to responsibility, Heckendorn has learned time management, how to make deadline and communications skills, she said.
“These skills are going to be valuable in the future,” she said. “The program has created a path for me I couldn’t have learned in a classroom.”
Why should other students join Orientation Programs?
According to Kjorlien, while Orientation Programs provides students with an infinite number of possibilities people from the outside can’t see, he understands the programs may not be for everyone.
“I wouldn’t tell all 20,000 people on campus to join,” he said. “It’s not an end-all home for everyone.”
Ordonez encourages those who wish to join to enter the program with no expectations. She said participants could be pleasantly surprised.
“This is such an amazing program and you get to meet so many people and build a great networking system, regardless of ethnicity,” she said. “I feel like I fit in, like I belong here.”
Even if you had a bad experience, she said, that can motivate you to join and ensure someone else has a positive one.
According to Heckendorn, Orientation Programs is a way to get involved on campus and to be a part of something bigger than yourself. She said everyone could get something out of it.
“We can all come together and be one for a week,” she said. “It brings unity to a campus that seems large.”
What was gained
Kjorlien has been a part of Orientation Programs for approximately four years and is at the end of his journey.
“I can say with absolute confidence I’ve made my mark on this campus,” he said.
Ordonez wants to make a difference in the lives of incoming students, she said.
According to Heckendorn, she never could have expected to be as confident in her abilities to communicate, achieve things while taking classes and remain so composed.
“I’ve gained more than I ever thought I could have,” she said. “There are no words for it.”