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UMN orientation leaders instill community in incoming students

Orientation leaders work all summer to make sure incoming students are prepared to enter the University of Minnesota.
Orientation leaders have detailed schedules to ensure incoming students know the ins and outs of campus while also saving time for community building. Courtesy of UMN Orientation and Transition Services.

Though University of Minnesota students are largely absent from campus during the summer months, summer orientation sessions welcome future gophers to campus in full force. 

Tasked with welcoming new students and their families to campus, orientation leaders are a pivotal part of the transitional experience before the academic year starts. And while the work can be difficult, orientation leaders said they value the opportunity to provide incoming students with a sense of community. 

Joseph Persaud-Cox, a first-year orientation leader, said he usually begins his days by mingling with the incoming students and their families before orientation leader introductions. From there, orientation leaders spend the day with their groups.

Orientation leaders have detailed schedules to ensure students get the best out of their experience, Persaud-Cox said. Two-day orientation sessions consist of small group lessons, community-building activities, free time and meetings with college advisors.

Persaud-Cox said he appreciated the feeling of community he got from his orientation experience and wanted to instill the same feeling in the next class of incoming students. 

“I definitely thrived with having support during my transition,” Persaud-Cox said. “And taking that to work every day. That’s my goal. Whenever I have students, build community with them, and they’re walking out with a group of friends”

Tarran Austin said she wanted to become an orientation leader because of her experience but in a different way. She said being in a predominantly white space as a woman of color made it harder for her to build community. 

Though Austin said she later realized her orientation would not be the defining moment of her college experience, she thinks being an orientation leader helps other students of color have a more positive experience. 

“Having representation on my team, definitely, I feel like helps other students just see a reflection of themselves,” Austin said. 

Austin added she plays “This or That” with her groups, where students are given two options and have to choose between the two as an icebreaker. 

“I just remember having my Chipotle versus Qdoba conversation and we’ll have a little debate and it was just so funny,” Austin said. “Having students be passionate about things like vanilla or chocolate ice cream, or queso or guacamole.”

Brooklyn Burque worked as an orientation leader in summer 2023 and is now an orientation intern for the Office of Orientation and Transition Experiences. In her role, Burque said she works as a coordinator and peer mentor. 

“I place a lot of trust in (the orientation leaders). And hopefully (they) place a lot of trust in me too,” Burque said. “But whenever I’m having a stressful day, they always check up on me even though I’m kind of a supervisor to them.” 

Though Burque participates in the University welcome at the beginning of each orientation, where leaders and staff are introduced to new students and their families, most of her work is behind the scenes, handling logistical matters like scheduling, she said

Both Persaud-Cox and Austin said the biggest challenge has been the unpredictable weather. Since many activities are outside, adjustments for weather can have a drastic effect on their schedules. 

“But even that’s an opportunity to take them through different unique routes and introduce them to important tunnel systems that go for ways around campus,” Persaud-Cox said. 

Austin said she has become more well-rounded from working in a team environment where she gets to know different groups of students and families each day. 

Persaud-Cox said the best part of being an orientation leader is talking with new students and getting them excited and prepared for their upcoming transition, either from high school to college or as transfer students. And working in a team with friends to help others reach a common goal has been a joy, he added.

“The best part is getting to tell them all the things that helped me and I feel like I get to give them the advantage and tell them all the tips and secrets and stuff that I learned during my transition and stuff that made me successful,” Persaud-Cox said.

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