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Sept. 13, 2017
La Grande, Ore. − Stringing lanyards together, cutting out name tags and addressing envelopes for this year’s Week of Welcome event have kept Eastern Oregon University senior Heidi Gerlach busy all summer. Now, as the annual new student orientation approaches, she reflects on the impact this one-of-a-kind event has on incoming Mountaineers.
Week of Welcome spans five days and includes interactive games, socials, orientation sessions and enough free T-shirts to clothe the entire class of 2021. Orientation activities begin Sept. 20 as freshmen move into residence halls and conclude Sept. 24, in time to start classes the following day.
Transfer students are invited to a one-day, on-campus orientation Sept. 21 for the first time since EOU introduced Week of Welcome. This smaller cohort will tour student resources, learn about campus technology and get to know one another while preparing for the start of fall term. Transfer students have the option to join their first-time freshmen peers for a more lengthy program, which features on and off campus activities.
Incoming freshmen will spend their first day of orientation offsite at the EOU Base Camp about 12 miles outside of La Grande.
“Our ability to load everybody onto a bus and take them out to a camp is unique to EOU,” said Gerlach, a two-time Week of Welcome leader. “Removing them from the campus atmosphere encourages team building and getting to know one another.”
Students work together in small groups, competing against 13 other teams in a variety of challenges. Each team rotates through stations to design a team banner, play human foosball, construct a miniature statue of Monty the Mountaineer entirely out of marshmallows, navigate an obstacle course and more.
“Each exercise requires different skills,” Gerlach said. “You have to use everyone’s strengths to succeed.”
Activities focus on teamwork, interdependency and cooperation, introducing freshmen to the university’s inclusive environment and diverse community. Gerlach, a music and theater student, said her Week of Welcome experience in 2015 introduced her to classmates she’s maintained close friendships with over the years.
“It gave me a social head start that really helped,” Gerlach said. “After moving across the state for college, it provided the atmosphere I needed to make friends.”
More than 300 new students attended the event last year, and organizer Kathryn Shorts anticipates a larger crowd this September. After they return to campus, incoming students get to know faculty members over a picnic dinner. The rest of the week includes student conduct and academic expectations programs, a hypnotist, grocery BINGO, a luau and bonfire, trolley tours of La Grande, a printing workshop at Arts Center East, preparation for the first day of classes and a number of Mountaineer athletic events.
Gerlach will be one of 35 upperclassmen leaders coordinating the event. They set an example for new students of how Mountaineers interact with one another and the community to build trusting friendships and work together.
“It’s an honor and a challenge to be one of the first faces they’ll really get to know at EOU,” she said. “Being a source of comfort and friendliness in a new place is so meaningful.”
More information about Week of Welcome is available at eou.edu/wow.
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