(Left to right) Mechanical engineering senior Justin Bautista, electrical engineering graduate student Christian Martens and business administration senior Lauren Heckendorn are three of the seven students responsible for coordinating Soar and Week of Welcome (WOW). | Joseph Pack/Mustang News

Kayla Missman

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Behind every coordinated dance by the orientation leaders, each Week of Welcome (WOW) activity and all the Soar groups, stands seven students: members of the Orientation and Transition Board, who are responsible for coordinating Soar and WOW.

“I had a really rough transition, so my goal is to make sure that what we do give students an opportunity to have a better transition,” Board member and business administration senior Lauren Heckendorn said. “What this program means to our school also means a lot to me. It’s cool when your school can rally around one big thing.”

And rally they did — this year, approximately 970 students came to the first spring training meeting this past Tuesday to become Soar and WOW leaders. They are trained by the Orientation Team, which is also at its largest with 74 members. The Orientation Team is selected and trained by the seven students on the Board, said Jason Mockford, the coordinator of New Student Programs.

How does the Orientation and Transition Board work?

The Board members were selected through an intense application process, including several interviews, one of which was during an open forum, Mockford said.

Mockford and Andrene Kaiwi-Lenting, the director of New Student Programs, serve as supervisors for the Board. They are the “custodians of the historical knowledge of the programs,” Mockford said, meaning they can inform Board members why previous decisions were made and help them narrow down their creative ideas into practical choices.

In addition to Heckendorn, the members include graduate student Christian Martens, mechanical engineering senior Justin Bautista, graphic communication senior Sean Garnsey, history senior Sarah Le Duff, business administration senior Meagan Smith and recreation, parks and tourism administration senior Katie McGuire.

Why join the Orientation and Transition Board?

A major theme of orientation is growth — both for new students and leaders.

“It’s really fun to start spring training, because if you look at the leaders now versus how they’re going to be in September, when they have their groups and they’re confident, and they’re — quite frankly — rockin’ it, you see their leadership development grow,” Mockford said. “You see that moment when the little light bulb goes on and they get it, they get what they’re doing.”

The program shapes Board members and the Orientation Team as well, which Martens said is one reason he decided to apply to become a Board member.

“It’s partially selfish, because I’ve seen how much it made me grow and how much I’ve gotten out of it,” he said. “Every year it’s just been strides above the last, and I’ve gotten so much from it. But at the same time, most people wouldn’t think it’s selfish at all because you’re doing it for so many other people.”

Everyone involved is passionate about orientation, which makes it a great experience. These students have found their niche, Heckendorn said, and the best part is being able to provide that opportunity for them.

For Bautista, it was about making a difference. He wanted to make changes and ensure the program was moving in the right direction.

What are the drawbacks?

Each member of the Board and the Orientation Team brings numerous ideas to the table, so it’s difficult to narrow them down, Bautista said.

“It’s hard to say, ‘OK, this is the one we want to use,’” he said. “Working together as a team takes a little effort, but once it happens, it gets a little smoother.”

The Board essentially works together for 18 months to put on orientation programs, which is very time consuming, Martens said.

“It’s hard to just keep all of your hobbies and free time — well, you don’t have free time, so the things you would do in your free time,” he said. “We’re all very well-versed and good at time management because you have to be, but it’s difficult. You have to know when to turn it off and do other work.”

Despite the kinks, each Board member is willing to help wherever needed to make new students feel comfortable, Heckendorn said.

“Everything we do comes with hiccups, naturally, but the seven of us always have each other’s backs,” she said. “No matter what comes up or what problems we may face, it’s nice to have the support.”

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