Lilly Leif is an English junior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
A rite of passage at Cal Poly is becoming a Week of Welcome (WOW) leader. You have the opportunity to make freshmen feel welcome on campus and give them a sense of home. Instead of fearing the looming four years ahead, WOW leaders help incoming students ease into their college experience while meeting new people. And while this all seems nice, the process to get there is downright grueling and unfair for those who donate their time.
It is not my intention to say that Cal Poly WOW is a bad program, just that it is run poorly. I really enjoyed my week as a leader and spending time with my WOWies. It’s just that the process to get to that point is exhausting and expensive. The lack of any financial reimbursement and disorganized training is a massive deterrent from being a repeat WOW leader.
WOW leaders receive absolutely zero financial compensation, not even so much as a minor reimbursement for the hundreds of dollars that some spend. I personally spent at least $600 between food and a rental Zipcar for the week due to the fact that there is such a pressure to take your WOWies off campus. There is essentially no way for WOW to be fun if you’re on campus the whole week, despite what you’re told in training. No one wants to tour the Recreation Center six times and watch the grass grow on Dexter Lawn. It is expected that you take your WOWies to the beach or kayaking, among other excursions.
And then there’s the cost of supplies you need to buy for making your sign, snacks for your WOWies, gas money for travel, bonfire supplies and other expenses. All of these purchases add up, especially if you’re a college student on a budget. Because WOW is a selling point for people to attend Cal Poly, I find it very upsetting that WOW leaders are not compensated for the roughly 50 hours in training over the course of spring quarter and the weeks before WOW.
If there is a budget to pay SLO Days leaders $13 an hour for three months, there should be enough to at least reimburse WOW leaders for their expenses. At the very least, WOW leaders should perhaps earn course credit for a GE for playing such an important role in Cal Poly’s orientation program. Cal Poly upholds WOW as one of the best orientation programs in the nation but does not seem to value all of the work and money that WOW leaders put into it.
However, the worst part of the process to become a WOW leader is the training. Allow me to walk you through the process of a weekly meeting for WOW training. You sit on the cold, hard floor of Chumash Auditorium, as hundreds of students are hopeful that WOW will be a fulfilling experience. For three hours, your legs fall asleep while you are taught the multiple “traditions” of WOW, most of which are just various chants and songs. Instead of normal transitions between topics and presentations, you get to watch the WOW Board lip sync and dance to songs that have no relevance to what you’re training for. A man two years your elder skips around the room like a child and you’re coerced to stand up and clap while he gallops around the perimeter of Chumash.
The whole three hours almost seems like a talent show in which the WOW Board “performs” various songs and dances. When you do have to listen to a presentation, it is a woman talking to you about train tracks for roughly an hour. The words “see track, think train,” will be forever etched into your brain and will echo in your head as you try to fall asleep at night. Or maybe, you are subjected to the Ripples Guy with his abundant hand motions, whom we’ve all experienced as incoming students. He will tell you an absolutely depressing story that, again, does not correlate to WOW training whatsoever. When the meeting ends, it’s 10 p.m. and you wonder if you’ll ever get the hours of your life you just lost back again.
After my training I felt somewhat useless with the lack of information I had. Yes, I knew how to dance to Michael Jackson’s “PYT” (that song has been ruined for me), but if a WOWie came to me for advice on academic or career advising, I had minimal knowledge to tell them. My answer came from my own experience, rather than what was covered in training. All the relevant information was glossed over.
At the end of my 50 hours of training, I still felt completely unprepared for the week. I understand that sitting and listening to logistics for three hours can be a lot of information to absorb. However, we’re all adults – we sit through two hour lectures or three hour labs and don’t need to have childish games to keep our attention. If all of these filler activities that had no relevance to WOW had been cut out, at least an hour could have been shaved off the meetings. And in a college student’s busy schedule, that hour is really crucial.
Only about 50-100 WOW leaders out of 900 are returners. To me, this speaks volumes on how poor the training and benefits are. With some adjustments to the program, Cal Poly’s WOW would have the potential to become more enjoyable for all those involved. Those that put in such an effort would feel valued as a part of campus for their work rather than feel used for all their unpaid work.