Credit: Connor Frost | Mustang News

The award-winning Week Of Welcome (WOW) has undergone some changes this year, developing condensed group activities, more outdoor engagement and mask requirements to adapt to the recent COVID-19 guidelines. 

WOW will take place Sept. 15-19. It is set to be in person this year and jam-packed with immersive activities.

Unlike last year’s virtual setup, WOW is planning on returning to some normalcy. 

Environmental management and protection sophomore Alex Siecke said she is trying to bring back some of the in-person activities that WOW was known for.

She said her group wants to take their wowies, or freshmen, kayaking or out to dinner, but are still awaiting approval from higher sources. 

“It’s all a waiting game,” Siecke said.

Siecke and her co-leader, Journalism sophomore Lauren Emo, have been planning activities since May. She said that they expected things to be different in terms of the pandemic.

This year, she said she feels that since we know more about the pandemic, WOW will be more organized and will call for more in-person participation from incoming freshmen.

Architecture junior Kenzie Pelletier, a WOW leader turned faculty advisor, said that she along with the Orientation Leadership Team decided to implement “smaller group activities and more outdoor events” this year. 

Andrene Kaonohiokala Kaiwi, the Director of New Student and Transition Programs, is overseeing the operational efforts and working with the Vice President and the Division of Student Affairs to make sure that incoming freshmen have a fun and engaging WOW. 

In a recent meeting with the activities team, Kaiwi said they discussed the ideas of smaller group activities, a movie night, roller skating and collaboration with Intramurals and the clubs and organizations available on campus. 

However, nothing is set in stone, according to Kaiwi. 

One thing that Kaiwi said that incoming freshmen can look out for are the required events.  Staff have prepared more presentations that weren’t shared at SLO Days as well as an Awareness Gallery for the students to walk through, according to Kaiwi.

But last year’s WOW was much different.

Theater arts junior Maya Sjoblom-Powell was a WOW leader last year and she said that leaders were told “there was a possibility it could be in person, and [they] were hanging on to that.”

At the last minute, WOW transitioned to a Zoom setting and leaders had to adjust their activities on short notice.

“It wasn’t the full WOW experience,” Sjoblom-Powell said. 

When WOW switched to a virtual format last year, New Student and Transition Programs had to get creative.

“Once we received news that campus would switch to virtual, we had to pivot fairly quickly,” Kaiwi said. 

Kaiwi said they had a virtual events, such as a petting zoo and magic show, but that it was definitely different than it would have been if it were to be in-person. 

Sjoblom-Powell said that she and her co-leader, theater arts junior Rylee Terry, wanted to take their wowies on a tour of San Luis Obispo. Because of the virtual format, they opted to make a YouTube-style video visiting their favorite spots in the area instead.

When Pelleteir led WOW in 2020, she said that the virtual set-up was “daunting” and she and her co-leader “struggled to keep people engaged.” 

They found that over the course of the week, about 75% of the students showed up and participated in the activities they had planned.

Some of the ways Pelleteir and her co-leader kept the group engaged and actively participating was by having their members anonymously send in PowerPoint presentations about themselves and have other group members guess who it was about. They also had a Netflix watch party and ate dinner together virtually.

“Though it was awkward, we wanted to show our support for our wowies and that we were there for them,” Pelleteir said.

Pelleteir said she became a WOW leader so that she could give incoming freshmen the ”community feel of it all” after going through WOW as a freshman in 2019.

When asked about how the pandemic has affected her role as a leader, Pelleteir said it made her “more excited to be more involved.” She said she was more “willing” and signed up to become a facilitator this year, where she trains and works with future WOW leaders. 

For Siecke, though, she did not get the ideal WOW experience her incoming year due to the virtual format, so she opted to change her experience by becoming a WOW leader this year.

“I want to be one of the first few faces incoming freshmen see when they come to the wonderful place that is SLO,” Siecke said. 

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