Another WOOLF pack has come and gone; this was number eleven for me. There have been changes every year, but none so great as the challenges we dealt with during this year’s wilderness orientation program.
Starting in late fall of last year, Dean Norma Lopez convened a series of meetings with all parties concerned with orientation. As a result, a whole new image of how Williams students begin their college experience began to take shape. Everyone at those meetings recognized that a shift was needed.
At the beginning of the first-year experience, it often felt like students were quickly divided up into several groups based on their participation in different special interest orientation programs, such as WOOLF, WOW/ALANA, International Students Orientation and pre-season athletics.
Lacking was the opportunity to begin as a whole, united class. Too often, the social groups forming from orientation programs inhibited the students’ desire to meet new friends through entries and various first-year activities. Implementing this idea of starting as a whole class during First Days had great appeal, as teams, clubs and a host of other groupings would naturally form soon enough.
This new start to school had great impact on the organization of WOOLF, but with it came the potential to reach a much more diverse population of students. Planning began last January with the return from study abroad of our co-directors, Jordan Goldwarg ’03 and Judy Harvey ’03. Our job over the next few months was to choose seventy leaders, train instructors, and recruit a support staff. Then, for one week after the last final was taken, WOOLF leader training began in earnest with skills workshops, a Wilderness First Aid course and 3-day training trips.
Summer months were spent processing the 320 applications of incoming first-years and gathering the army-like amounts of gear, personal equipment and food needed to put 400 students – 34 separate trips – safely and joyfully into our nearby backyard wilderness.
I observed and took part in a wonderful effort of organization and coordination of logistics that resembled nothing short of a Swiss watch. Staff, leaders and participants were all smiling when trips returned from their adventures. Much gratitude should be given to all those who provided much-needed and freely-given energy in making this program so successful. I especially appreciate all those behind the scenes who make working at Williams such a privileged experience – the folks at Buildings &Grounds, Dining Services, Security and the Health Center.
I hope that the first-years found this to be a good way to begin their college experience. From my point of view, the changes in orientation format were positive, resulting in greater diversity for WOOLF and an overall more cohesive first-year class.
I truly enjoyed being a part of welcoming the Class of 2006 to Williams, and I look forward to building upon this year’s success in the future.