Student orientation leaders are a key part of Gonzaga’s New Student Orientation. Working both behind the scenes and on the front lines during orientation week, student orientation leaders serve as the welcoming committee to incoming freshmen. As they work closely with incoming students, these leaders are responsible for showing the freshmen what being a Zag is all about.
Justin Gambone, program coordinator for first year experience programs, is in charge of orientation and student orientation leaders.
Gambone designs orientation to welcome students and their families to GU, with a focus on the transitional aspects of going to college. Orientation leaders help students understand the transition from high school with academics, social life and being away from home.
“We really strive to put programs and initiatives surrounding those transitional issues of students to make them feel that Gonzaga is the place for them,” Gambone said. “That everyone feels welcome and has a sense of belonging.”
New Student Orientation requires about 250 orientation leaders. This year, the three positions usually available for student leaders have been merged into two — small group leaders and super group leaders.
Small group leaders are traditional orientation leaders in charge of leading small groups and working directly with the students to get them acclimated to GU. They plan icebreakers and help students get to know each other in order to ease the fears of being a freshman in a new environment.
Super group leaders are the middle managers between First Year Experience staff and the orientation leaders. They manage more of the logistical and operational components, help with setup and teardown, move students across campus, answer questions and work closer with students and their families rather than managing a small group.
Junior nursing major Peyton McKenny has worked as both a small group leader and a super group leader.
“Student leaders are really beneficial because you get an upper level student perspective of everything when you’re a freshman,” McKenny said. “So when you’re really nervous about classes and the ins and outs, you have someone who’s been through that to guide you.”
The interview process is similar to that of a traditional job or internship application, but this year a 2-minute video component was added to replace in-person interviews.
Once hired, orientation leaders are contacted with information on training. Training typically happens in person on the days before orientation starts, but with COVID-19 extra precautions had to be enacted. Part of the training was moved online, which helped shorten the in-person portion to limit possible exposure.
Super group leaders have their orientation a couple of days before the small group leaders. Then, the super group leaders are responsible for training small group leaders and assisting them throughout the orientation week.
McKenny said she loves working with the incoming freshmen during orientation. Her favorite part of the process is the training, when the leaders are able to hang out and get to know one another. The connections made there carry into the rest of the year, and she loves being able to wave at the friends she made during orientation.
Student orientation leaders are very important to student involvement. Being able to provide a student perspective on clubs and activities on campus gives incoming freshmen an opportunity to hear directly from those with experience, rather than listening to speeches from those in charge.
“They are really beneficial for us in providing new incoming students with their personal experiences so that way the students can learn and see how they can make a difference on campus,” Gambone said.
Around October each year, student orientation leaders are asked to complete a survey about their experience. This helps Gambone and his staff improve orientation for the next class, so students are able to get a better experience.
Reilley Chapman, a sophomore business administration major, was inspired by her experience to become a small group leader for the class of 2024.
“College is scary and when I first got to Gonzaga I was afraid I made the wrong choice,” Chapman said. “My small group leader made me feel comfortable and excited for this scary new journey and I wanted nothing more than to give that same experience to my freshmen.”
As a super group leader, McKenny enjoyed getting to know the small group leaders she worked with and loved helping students and their families with questions they had about GU. But between small group and super group, McKenny prefers being a small group leader because she prefers working directly with the freshmen.
“Seeing the little bit of difference you make in making people more comfortable with coming here is really rewarding,” McKenny said. “It brings the whole Gonzaga community together, and that sense of community is why a lot of us chose Gonzaga in the first place.”Ao