Freshman and their families immersed themselves into campus life on Wednesday morning, August 17, 2016, moving into their dorms and checking in for Orientation.
Residence Life staff and the Orientation Leaders (OLs) led students around campus, answered questions, handed out welcome packets, carried luggage inside from cars, and were friendly faces to visitors and new students.
The students spent the morning exploring their new environment before the first scheduled event, the Western Welcome, held at the Mountaineer Bowl.
Sara Phillips, Director of LEAD & Orientation, welcomed the class of 2020 and their families at the Mountaineer Bowl. As the rain clouds swelled behind her and thunder cracked overhead, she encouraged everyone to take in the scenery and adapt to this unique environment. “I hope this place becomes your home over the next four years,” she said.
President Greg Salsbury took the microphone next, offering words of encouragement and to applauding students for choosing Western. He spoke of Western’s value and unique ability to offer students a personalized education. He highlighted the University’s 17:1 student to teacher ratio, and that 96% of classes are taught by full-time faculty with 87% of them holding terminal degrees as some of the qualities that will offer students a top-notch education.
He even described his son’s personal choice to attend Western after visiting the Colorado School of Mines, and the success Colton has found forming connections across campus his freshman year. Speaking as the President, but also a parent, Dr. Salsbury gave a warm welcome to the incoming class.
The Orientation Leaders brought their energy to the field next, shortly before a rainstorm erupted. Herding the students into the Mountaineer Field House, the OLs kept spirts high, leading the students in a series of games and introductions.
After circling up and a massive round of high fives, the groups split off for the first time into their Headwaters 100 classes. They got the opportunity to meet their professors and each other.
Eliya Sorensen, of Paonia, Colo. said that meeting her Headwaters class was her favorite part of the day. “I am in the Adventure Education & Leadership class with Paul Tame. We’re going to be doing a lot of trail work and outdoor stuff.”
The day continued with a Welcome BBQ in the University Center. Students and their families gathered to enjoy sandwiches, hot dogs, and all of the fixings.
Live music was provided by Western’s own student OLs Skylar Marsh, Dominic Compoz, Lauren Hopp and Delaney Pitman. The evening concluded in the Field House with a Beach Ball Bonanza session led by Recreation and Outdoor Education instructor, Matt Ebbott.
“My favorite part was when we got to split up from our parents and meet a lot of cool new people,” said Breanna McGrath from Arvada, Colo.
On Thursday, August 18, after breakfast and a meeting with Residence Life staff, the Orientation groups began a schedule of rotating programming sessions that would continue through Friday and Saturday. The students rotated between four options: Academic Resources, Life at Western, Wildness Pursuits trips, and Headwaters 100 Service Projects.
In the Academic Resources session, the students got familiar with the services and staff that can help them succeed inside of the classroom.
Situated throughout the library, the students rotated between meetings with the Library staff, the Peer Academic Leaders (PALs) of the Academic Resource Center, Financial Aid, and IT Services.
Learning how to find books and other media in the library, how to manage their time efficiently, how to pay their tuition bill, and how to get help fixing their computer, were some of the skills the incoming class added to their arsenal.
Learning how to adjust outside of the classroom and to campus life was the focus of the Life at Western session. Situated in the Taylor Auditorium, the students were addressed by Dean of Students, Gary Pierson. He shared with them his wisdom on being successful in college, including being active inside and outside of the classroom. He emphasized the importance of forming personal connections with at least one faculty member, staff members, or student leader. Knowing when you need support and learning how to advocate for yourself and reaching out for help, is something Vice President Pierson stressed. “You are now part of the Western community. We are like a family here.”
The students then enjoyed a variety of skits performed by the Orientation Leaders. They addressed real life issues faced by college students across the country, topics such as marijuana regulations, alcohol poisoning, sexual assault and consent, avoiding drunk driving, and how to communicate with your roommate.
Offering an introduction to the recreational opportunities available in the Gunnison Valley, the Wilderness Pursuits student guides led trips in a variety of activities and scenic locations. Students could choose between rafting on the Gunnison River; rock climbing, mountain biking or hiking at Hartman Rocks; stand up paddle boarding at Blue Mesa Reservoir; sea kayaking at Blue Mesa; or in-town explorations of Gunnison or Crested Butte. The students were able to get out and recreate for three hours, getting one-on-one time with avid outdoors people, who could give them safety tips, and tricks about “sweet spots” and places to explore further later on.
This year the Headwaters service projects engaged with the community in a variety of different ways. One thing they all had in common was working together, getting to know each other and the town, and helping those around them. “Service is one of the ways we make this valley run,” said Mark Gibson, instructor of Headwaters 100: Finding Your Personal Rhythm.
The service projects collaborated with the following entities:
- Gunnison Middle School
- Coldharbour Institute
- Gunnison High School
- Gunnison City Parks
- Tenderfoot Child and Family Development Center
- Headwaters Farm
- Habitat for Humanity
- Assisted Living at Gunnison Valley Health
- Gunnison Country Food Pantry
- Six Points Evaluation and Training Center
- Gunnison Valley Observatory
Before going off to do their projects, the students were addressed by First Year Seminar Director, Matthew Ebbott. Ebbott explained the big idea behind the project is getting involved outside of campus and connecting with the community. “It’s about getting to know each other, your institution, yourself, and the community.”
After completing their service project, the students will continue in an eight-week seminar that will help them in finding their sense of place at Western and in the community. “Gunnison is the literal Headwaters region. The figurative Headwaters is that it’s the beginning of this incoming class’ college experience.” Each class gets an introduction to the Valley using the unique lens of their professor, which is often tied to their discipline and passions. Students will also attend convocations throughout the semester.
The first of those convocations was presented on Friday at Dr. Melanie Hulbert’s address titled “Tattoos and Birds in Blue Tents: Making Your Place at Western.” Hulbert reassured students that they are here for a reason, that they probably don’t want to be like everyone else in their hometown, that their uniqueness – what is tattooed on their heart – is what is going to allow them to succeed at Western. She encouraged students to embrace their differences, push themselves outside of their comfort zone, absorb the place around them, and face challenges head-on.
Orientation concluded with University Day at Crested Butte Mountain Resort on Sunday. With free Adventure Park tickets, students and staff alike were given an all-access pass to everything the resort has to offer. Students could ride the Red Lady and Silver Queen lifts; hike to the Summit or surrounding areas; they could spend the day downhill mountain biking or enjoying the various activities at the base.
Classes began on Monday, August 22.