As the world went virtual this past summer, so did Drake University’s orientation program for incoming first-years. Nineteen orientation leaders became the bridge between students and their school, working to create the best experience possible for new students.
Drake has begun recruiting new orientation leaders for summer 2021, and current students who want to be orientation leaders can attend information sessions on Dec. 3 or Feb. 2.
As Director of New Student Programming, Marina Verlengia is well-versed in the benefits of becoming an orientation leader.
“It’s a big leadership role for students, and we really value that peer mentor relationship,” Verlengia said. “Orientation leaders do get paid for the time that they work, and we provide a lot of development in the spring on skills like leadership, communication, problem-solving, how to work in a team. There’s a lot of great applicable skills they take with them.”
With the switch to virtual, these skills are being put to the test.
“[Orientation leaders] got super creative,” Verlengia said. “They did Kahoots, someone figured out how to do a virtual Fruit Basket game, they had trivia, a question and answer time, they got really creative with how they did it and tried to make it as fun and interactive as possible.”
Kyle Tekautz, junior and returning orientation leader, realizes the importance of these interactions for first-year students.
“The transition from high school to college is a weird time, and with the whole COVID pandemic going on, it’s even a weirder time to be going through this huge transition, this new milestone in your life,” Tekautz said. “I want to help walk students through that process and be a resource for them.”
First-year Lisette Villalba Torres’ positive orientation leader experience factored into her interest in becoming one next summer.
“My orientation leader and my PMAC were really nice,” Villalba Torres said. “It changes somebody’s experience in college. I want to do that, too. It’s really hard to make connections and easier to stay in your bubble, so I want to really reach out to the first-years and make them feel at home.”
Orientation leaders have many responsibilities to make sure new students like Villalba Torres feel welcome at Drake.
“The orientation leaders help introduce new students to campus,” Verlengia said. “They help them meet other students and introduce them to Drake resources and other departments on campus. They continue interacting with students throughout the semester to answer any questions that they have.”
Tekautz is still connected with many of his students from this past summer.
“One of my students texted me yesterday and said ‘I need help planning my classes,’” Tekautz said. “I enjoy the lasting connections you make with students, not just having a one-and-done type of thing.”
Verlengia understands that having current students as a resource for incoming first-years makes a difference.
“I think that student experience, and for students to hear from other current students, is much more valuable than me saying something to them about an experience or resource,” Verlengia said. “It’s much more real when it comes from another student.”
As an older sister and a minority, Villalba Torres exemplifies this idea.
“I’m the oldest sibling out of three, and I’ve always had kind of a ‘mom’ vibe where I want to nurture you and make sure you’re doing alright,” Villalba Torres said. “I can expand what I’ve lived through to others, especially as a minority student at a primarily white institution.”
Ultimately, the best quality of an orientation leader is being able to put the experience of students first.
“With these new student experiences, the orientation leaders have to realize this experience is for the students, not for them, and they need to put their best foot forward,” Tekautz said.
Students interested in becoming an orientation leader can sign up for an information session at www.drake.edu/orientation/orientationleaders/.