Call it the storm before the calm. Students at Homewood will splash around in the Athletic Center pool while watching the classic scare-film Jaws, or line up for a chance at a date with a stranger in a Hopkins version of MTV's Singled Out, while others might get down in the mud in a messy game of volleyball. It's Orientation '98, a chance for the freshman class to make friends and get to know their new home.
But when the class of 2002 is all moved in and the dust has settled, it will be time for them to begin what they came here to do: study. And for the staff of Orientation '98, the ones who organized these first-week festivities, it also will be time to return to the normalcy of student life.
Since May, the 10-person staff has logged hundreds of hours in the basement of Shriver Hall, dreaming up the events and activities and organizing the volunteers that make up the orientation program.
At the helm of this year's operation is Marcia Suzuki, an Orientation '97 veteran, who says she wanted a chance to organize an event that meant so much to her when she was a freshman--even if that meant sacrificing a good portion of her summer, working seven-day weeks, sometimes well into the night. "I worked on the staff last summer, so I knew the work that was involved in putting this event together," says Suzuki, a senior from California majoring in public health. "But I wanted to take on more responsibility. For one, I thought it would be a fun job."
The job itself involves filling up the days between Aug. 29 and Sept. 7 in an effort to help the 994 freshmen, some of whom are away from home for the first time, to become acclimated to their new surroundings. The week began Saturday with the big move-in, when parents and students descended upon the campus in cars, vans and trucks that were stuffed to the windows with such items as clothes, computers, posters and stereos.
To help with the move, the Orientation '98 staff organized a small army of volunteers to help unload the cars and carry items into the dorm rooms. But according to Kurt Erler, Orientation '98 entertainment chair, the main focus of freshman orientation begins after the parents leave, and the students are left alone.
Erler says that what the orientation staff doesn't want is students sitting by themselves in their dorm rooms. To remedy this, Erler and the rest of the staff organized a number of events centered on student interaction.
Some of these activities include a huge game of Twister; on-campus movies; a video-dance club in the Glass Pavilion of Levering Hall; and Playfair, advertised as "a chance to meet your entire class up close and personal." "It's mainly to make them less nervous and get out of the dorms and meet other freshmen," says Erler, of the entertainment activities. "It's also a chance to let your hair down and have some fun the first week--before the mind-opening experience of college study begins."
Erler, a junior biomedical engineering major from New Jersey, says he visited the campus three times before his freshman orientation and got the sense that Hopkins was not the "most fun place to be." Yet that image changed, he says, as he fondly remembers his own freshman orientation.
"It was a blast. I had the best time," Erler says. "The rest of the year is pretty slow because there is so much studying going on. But that one week was one of the best times in my life. I joined the orientation staff to make this an even better orientation."
The orientation staff views its mission as extending far beyond the social. Addressing academic concerns and preparing students for new freedoms and responsibilities is the mission of the core program and student advising staff. New students are teamed with first-year advocates and student advisers, upperclass students who provide advice and referrals on majors, studying, academic resources, co-curricular life and personal issues.
These first friends to the freshmen begin their effort with letters to their new students over the summer and with daily meetings and information sharing throughout the orientation. They're also there when orientation ends, to answer questions and assist students in exploring their new world.
Orientation also aims to build school spirit and community by involving new students in activities that include a daylong service learning experience dubbed "Into the City: JHU Day of Caring," which was organized by Karen Shahar, core program chair for orientation. On Wednesday, more than 700 students--freshmen, resident advisers and orientation staff--will tackle 11 service projects, ranging from neighborhood clean-up to home repairs for the elderly, in the Greater Homewood community.
While entertainment activities such as Playfair and on-campus movies are orientation week staples, most of the other events were thought up by either the orientation staff or were suggestions from the freshman class that came in response to a questionnaire sent out early in the summer. But not all the ideas thought up came to fruition, Suzuki adds. "Some of the highs of this job are the immense possibilities we're given to come up with activities and events. But the lows are that we are denied some of these dreams," Suzuki says. "We quickly realized there were constraints when it came to entertainment."
To deal with these and other problems, the staff often looked to Andrea Perry, special assistant to the dean and director of Orientation and Judicial Affairs at Homewood. Perry, whose own office is steps away from that of Orientation '98, worked hand-in-hand with the student staff. For Perry, this will be her 17th Hopkins orientation, an event she has watched burgeon from her first year.
"It has grown enormously in a decade and a half," Perry says. "One reason is that the student body also has grown so much." Perry says the staffers have a tremendous responsibility coordinating an event for so many people. For example, to support all these new students and their parents, the orientation staff spent the spring enlisting the hundreds of student volunteers who will act as orientation assistants, first-year advocates, student advisers and parent ambassadors. The staff also came up with this year's theme, which is, What is essential is invisible to the eye, a message that points to the wisdom, knowledge and understanding inside a person.
Something else that might be "invisible to the eye" is the apprehension felt by each Orientation '98 staff member as move-in day approached. "There is a lot of pressure on us. This orientation is all ours, and how it comes off will reflect on all of us," says Kate Palley, assistant executive of Orientation '98 and a senior from Connecticut, who is a Writing Seminars major. "I won't be able to breathe on my own until this is all finished. I was talking to Marcia the other day, and I said I could just feel the pressure. It's like a big wave is coming toward us."
But, Palley adds, there will also be a level of sadness when orientation ends and class begins. "It's been like watching a movie that has been really intense," she says. "But it's not a movie you can ever see again."