Pre-Orientation programs are specifically designed to help introduce freshmen to the world of Washington University; but for some counselors, pre-Orientation has become an integral part of college.
Every year, upperclassmen cut their summers short and leave two weeks early to venture to Washington University in order to help welcome freshmen to their new homes. As the freshmen use pre-Orientation to explore campus, many counselors use the time to connect to their programs, participants and memories of pre-Orientations past.
Seniors Tara Benesch and Natacha Lam both participated in pre-Orientation programs as freshmen. Tara Benesch was not given a choice because her scholarship group, Annika Rodriguez Scholars, requires all new members to participate. Natacha Lam joined “Leading Wash. U. Style,” Student Union’s pre-Orientation program, in order to ease her way into what she saw as a possible leadership position. Four years later, they both still return to their respective programs as counselors.
“All the new scholars are required to go, but not all of the old scholars are required to go. It’s a volunteer [option],” said Benesch, who has volunteered all four years. “To meet the people is why I go to pre-O as opposed to just go on vacation or go with my friends somewhere.”
Lam agrees. She comes back every year for one simple reason.
“I love pre-O. A lot of my good friends I made in pre-O…Since I had a good experience I really wanted to come back as a counselor to help them have the same great experience that I had.”
“Leading Wash. U. Style” requires counselors to go through an interview process before they are named as counselors in the program. Lam, the current chief justice on constitutional counsel, has gone through that process and has been a counselor for three out of her four years.
“It frames my year. It starts off my year, and then applying is what ends my year. It’s sort of a weird anniversary. Pre-O is just this mark.”
That anniversary starts to take on more significance as the counselors reflect on the difference that four years can make.
“As a participant, I was trying to learn things. Everything was so new but you don’t really see things from a wider perspective. As a counselor you can see where people might fit and where their passions were. When I was younger, I felt more at the same level of the participants, and now I’m going to be a senior, I’m the oldest you can get, so I feel more capable of giving advice,” Lam said.
As Lam became more capable of giving advice, she could also personally watch the effects. In fact, one of the reasons Lam enjoys coming back is to watch former participants follow in her footsteps, becoming counselors themselves.
But advice, according to Benesch, is only one reason why the counselors are an important part of pre-Orientation.
“The point is not necessarily to bombard people with advice but to give people a spring board, to give them the basics and to let them know they have a strong community and a strong family at Wash. U. The family is most important…as opposed to just trying to memorize what we tell them and see if they can survive on that.”
Whether giving advice or merely connecting, both counselors agreed that attending pre-Orientation as a senior helps give a sense of perspective on the effects of the time spent at college.
“Sophomore year was the first time I had any authority at pre-O because I was not a freshman, so I was really enthusiastic to share my experiences with the freshmen,” Benesch said. “I was really excited to answer any questions. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t have all the answers. I think I talk less every year.”
Lam, taking a step back, saw a difference not only in herself, but in her program as well.
“I’m starting to realize how I’ve changed over the past couple years, how college has changed me. Not that the freshmen aren’t still awesome and great,” Lam said. “Honestly I think SU has changed a lot in the past couple years, and you can see the change in the dedication in the counselors and the participants.”
Pre-Orientation may be a program designed for freshmen, but the experience reaches far beyond that first week of freshman year. Sometimes, the program that starts college can be the program that becomes a college anchor. And so sophomores, juniors and seniors come back every year to kick off the school year by welcoming the new class. And according to Benesch, their reasons for joining are not that different from those of their participants.
“As a senior you come back for the same reasons, but as opposed to wanting to find a group it’s like coming home to a family you’ve already established.”