Since President Jeffrey Armstrong announced that Week Of Welcome (WOW) would become a mandatory program in 2015, the program’s budget has consistently been “in the red” by approximately $22,000. However, this does not include what WOW leaders pay out of pocket.
While WOW is not intended to be a money-making program and the deficit is due to subsidizing low-income students who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend the mandatory program, according to University Spokesperson Matt Lazier, WOW leaders report another deficit that is not captured by that statistic. WOW leaders are volunteers and do not receive reimbursement for money spent on gas, snacks, materials for their decorative signs or $25 parking passes for the week prior to school.
WOWies are instructed to bring $25 with them for the week and leaders are told the $25 is their spending cap for each WOWie. The WOW leaders are responsible for any additional costs.
English junior Hannah Levin did not have a car when she was a WOW leader. Even with the help of others who drove her WOWies during the week and the use of the bus system, Levin said she spent $150 on Zipcars to compensate. She said that although it was her choice to do so, she felt a pressure to create the “best WOW possible” for her group.
“We felt like we had an obligation definitely to show them our favorite parts of [San Luis Obispo] and really go out in order to give them the best time possible,” Levin said.
Leaders are expected to follow the mantra of “no white space” during the orientation week. The phrase is used to remind leaders to leave no gaps without activity in their schedule for their “WOWies.”
In the official WOW newsletters sent over the summer, the driving times for locations up to 30 minutes away are included. Levin said that WOW is inclusive for WOWies, but not for the leaders financially.
“I think that for people who have jobs who don’t have as much time to give, that could severely impact feeling included as well as staying within the program,” Levin said.
Despite the expenditures, approximately 900 students are WOW leaders each year. Director of New Student and Transition Programs Andrene Kaiwi wrote in an email to Mustang News that while some leaders choose not to participate while training, the retention rate of WOW leaders is not tracked.
Art and design junior Lucy Houghton said that excess financial costs and a busy schedule led to her decision not to return for a second time.
Students also have the cheaper option of being an event staffer, which means they organize the whole event as opposed to one WOW group. E-Staff is still required to attend the 30-plus hours of spring quarter training. There are approximately 40-50 E-Staff members in charge of the packets WOW leaders receive each morning, set-up and clean-up and group check in for food and events. Leaders who do not attend training are dropped by the program.
Some WOW leaders said they felt they greatly benefited from the time commitment, as did the program. Computer engineering senior Sydney Mendoza wrote in an email to Mustang News that she was a WOW leader in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and that the hours of training were a positive experience for her.
“I loved Spring Training,” Mendoza wrote. “Yes, the hours were long, but I feel like it was necessary. Through the training, I learned a lot about myself and my leadership role while also seeing myself grow a lot. Even though you have to go to 30-plus hours to become a WOW leader, I definitely think it is worth it because in the end you see the impact that you have on new students, and you see growth in yourself.”
Aerospace engineering junior Grayson McKenzie, Houghton’s co-WOW leader, wrote that he decided to be a WOW leader because his experience as a WOWie was not what he expected. He wanted to improve the event for incoming WOWies. He said he enjoyed his experience as a leader but could not return because of his busy schedule as a junior.
“I was motivated to be a WOW Leader by my desire to ‘rewrite’ my own WOW experience,” McKenzie wrote in an email to Mustang News. “To make sure that the group I led would have a great time and feel more welcomed by the university. The thought that they’d be able to see Cal Poly as their home and their fellow WOWies as people they could trust and grow close to kind of kept me going with it.”
Houghton said that although it is not required of the leaders to take their WOWies off-campus via cars, it is highly encouraged to show the WOWies the “surrounding area,” which results in leaders having to spend gas money and often pay for parking passes in an attempt to give WOWies a memorable experience. Houghton said the bus schedule was difficult to navigate with WOW’s tight timeline.
“The whole point of WOW is to get them to know the campus and surrounding area,” Houghton said. “But it’s hard to get to know the surrounding area when you don’t drive anywhere.”
In an email forwarded to Mustang News, Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey wrote that it is not expected or necessary for leaders to take their WOWies off campus because enough events are provided on-site.