Last month, the Class of 2025 became the first to experience Albion-O, the new freshmen orientation experience at Albion College.
Acknowledging that freshmen orientation in previous years was more information oriented than student oriented, the College sought to recreate the experience with the students in mind.
The two chairs behind this project are Christopher Berry, assistant dean for student success and the associate director for the Cutler Center for Student Success, and Sharese Mathis, assistant dean of Campus Life.
Berry and Mathis were selected to be co-chairs of orientation this year. While they worked with a large group of staff to brainstorm ideas for Albion-O, Berry and Mathis were the ones who mapped out the orientation on a microlevel with themes and activities for specific days.
“There used to be two pieces [to the freshman orientation experience],” said Berry. “There used to be SOAR, which was like the summer thing that happened in June. There were three sessions that happened in June and students had to pick one day. Then, there was one SOAR session in August for students who deposited late or out-of-state students. Then, we had what was called First-Year-Information weekend, F-Y-I weekend.”
A transition was required to switch from the SOAR and FYI orientation programs to Albion-O. It was a decision that was said to be well thought out by administrators.
“The charge to do that [change the freshman orientation experience] came from Dean Wright. And the purpose was really to ensure that students had the tools that they needed to be successful when the first day of classes started,” said Berry.
The change to the first-year orientation was intentional and made to be beneficial for preparation for life at Albion as a first year.
“There was really an emphasis on spending more time getting to know campus, getting settled in, building relationships with peers, faculty and staff, who are here to support students,” said Berry.
The Albion-O experience was made to focus on more one-on-one sessions between students and campus resources.
“We had a focus on fun. There was very little ‘somebody standing in front of a group of people and talking.’ Our goal was that nobody was talking on stage for more than 10 minutes. We did a lot of small break out sessions whether it was a session with their FYE [First-Year experience] mentor or sessions that were run by staff,” said Berry.
At the end of Albion-O, the leadership team wanted the students to feel that they took something of value away, whether that was new knowledge about themselves or campus resources.
“We also tried to build things around activities. It wasn’t like telling you something. It was like learning a skill or doing an activity and using that time to build a relationship with a student,” said Berry. “Because it’s super easy to stand up in front of a group of students and present, but I think it’s a lot more impactful when members of the cutler center stage present a session about self care and do a 20 min activity where you try out different self care options and figure out which ones work for you.”
Albion-O is most importantly centered on belonging and being student oriented, which is a common theme this year under President Mathew Johnson’s administration.
“Something we thought a lot about was the types of experiences that students were getting,” said Berry. “If students spend a weekend with us or a full week with us and they have all these experiences but none of them felt like they were built with them in mind, that doesn’t really help them feel like they made the right choice, like they belong here. So we wanted to have a variety of activities, so that no matter where you are coming from there was something for you, something you can connect with and make you feel like you belong.”