College Revamps Orientation Trips

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First-year students participate in an orientation activity. (Courtesy/Middlebury College)

After many adaptations to first-year orientation trips ranging from MOO to OINK, the College has arrived at a new, expanded program titled MiddView. The name is recycled from the original version of MiddView, temporarily shelved because of the recession after its first year in 2008.

The main difference between OINK, which has been the College’s orientation program for the last four years, and MiddView is that MiddView will be a mandatory part of first-year orientation that comes with no additional fees. This financial privilege comes from joint funding provided by the College and the SGA.

“The 2013 program will look much like MiddView in 2008,” said Derek Doucet, director of outdoor programs and club sports. “It will differ in scale, and in the scope and breadth of trip offerings. The most important distinction is that it will be intentionally integrated in the College’s overall orientation efforts.”

Instead of happening separate from orientation like OINK, with students leaving on trips the weekend after classes begin, next year MiddView will happen at the end of orientation week. Themes and discussions introduced at the beginning of orientation will continue through the MiddView trips.

“The primary goal is to help first-years in the transition from home to Middlebury,” said Doucet. “They carry with them all kinds of hopes, dreams and anxieties, and the trips program will provide a peer group they can lean on in what can be a very challenging time.

“It will also provide an invaluable opportunity for them to connect them with older student leaders,” he added. “Finally, the trips introduce first years to the new academic, cultural and physical landscapes that will become their home for their time here.”

Along with the program’s expansion and required participation come a variety of trips, the hope being that this will let every first-year find a trip of interest. Three categories of trips will be offered next year. Wilderness exploration trips will be similar to the outdoor trips currently offered by OINK and will include activities such as backpacking and canoeing. Vermont exploration trips will explore the cultural aspects of Vermont as opposed to the physical; they might entail looking at organic farming or contemplative practices in Vermont. The third category for trips will be community engagement trips, which will be service oriented. OINK offered five such trips this year, and the new program hopes to more than double that number next fall.

“It gives new students a chance to realize problems that they might not otherwise hear about in Vermont, such as hunger and homelessness,” said Community Engagement Coordinator Ashley Calkins ’06. “This way they can experience what communities need, with the hope that they will choose to stay involved in civic engagement throughout their Middlebury career. They also will be able to meet other students who are interested in community service.”

The program organizers hope that these service trips will increase student involvement in community projects and student community organizations and allow first-years to connect their participation in high school service organizations to such organizations at the College.

“I graduated in 2006, and I still remember the people I went on my orientation trip with and those core relationships I made before classes even started,” said Calkins.

Next year students will leave Friday morning of their orientation week and spend the following three days and two nights with their MiddView group. The program coordinators are looking for between 100 and 120 volunteer student leaders for these expanded trips.

Posters will go up to recruit students and the link for the student application, due Jan. 30, will be go/lead.

“We are looking to help [first-years] become contributing members of the campus community, to launch their college experience in a meaningful way and to help broaden their sense of community to the areas surrounding Middlebury” said Shannon Gair ’13, an orientation intern working on MiddView.

The coordinators are looking for leaders who are enthusiastic about the trips and who will be able to facilitate discussions between first-years and help them to find a place at the College.

Many students seem optimistic about moving the orientation programs so they are a part of orientation week.

“I really liked my OINK trip, but I would have preferred to have had it during orientation” said Gair.

This is a common theme among those who experienced meaningful OINK trips that came after their first week of classes. Upperclassmen who volunteered with the Mountain Club to go on these trips had to give up their first weekend back at the College to participate.

“I wanted to go on an OINK trip, but I didn’t sign up in time. I would have preferred if they were during orientation and everyone participated” said Amy Pickens ’15.

“The OINK program as a whole was probably the best part of my orientation experience,” said Emily Sarich ’16. “If I could change anything about the experience, I would definitely agree that it should be part of orientation. I know a lot of people had to miss out on the trip because they had too much work to do the first week of classes. OINK was still a fantastic experience for me and I would love to see next year’s [first-years] enjoy it just as much as I did.”