OL/PA Prepares Students for Success
OL/PA takes a bow. (Photo: Edward Tatton III)
It is safe to say that the Orientation Leader/Peer Advisor (OL/PA) program at WCC is like no other. This rigorous and intensive program takes a lot out of its participants, but it gives back so much more.
After being accepted into the program, students are taken on a three day retreat to a campground, where you learn about 40 names and by the third day, people are bearing their souls, revealing the deepest portions of their lives. From social anxiety to acknowledging that they were a victim of assault, it goes from zero to one hundred real quick.
The purpose of OL/PA is to prepare students to become leaders and to give the Orientation Leaders (OLs) the confidence to lead a group of 20 or more students on Orientation Day. Meaning each OL could potentially be in charge of 60 or more incoming students over the three day event.
During the 3 day retreat at the camping grounds OL’s were not told what leadership skills they lacked or had to develop before orientation. It begs the question why was the retreat important?
“I think that us being almost forced to open up to each other reminded us that we need humility and empathy for people who are seemingly strangers, the new students. That was a crucial thing for us to have gone through because our minds and hearts are more open and understanding,” said Roshae Ferguson, a communications graduate now attending SUNY Oneonta.
During the retreat there are connections made with everyone even someone who is a complete opposite of them. It really puts things into perspective. OL’s dont have the luxury to look at people the way they used to because they know from experience that every person has a story, a struggle and is similar to them in ways you may never know.
It gets deep and it gets dark, but the feeling of vulnerability among the OL’s creates a bond more like a family than anyone could ever expect. A bond that has produced three marriages since the founding of the program.
On an individual level the sense of community that is so quickly developed changes people. “It gave me more confidence, it allowed me to be more open minded and lose some of my shyness. I actually do feel like a new person,” said Jessica Baizan who is majoring in Nutrition.
Along with the 3 day retreat OL’s go through a week long training process the week before Orientation. During this time is where OL’s prepare for Orientation.
OL/PA like everything else certainly has space for improvement.
“I didn’t feel like I was prepared enough for students with disabilities. Being as though I’m able bodied and are around students who are visibly able bodied, I needed to more preparation on how to interact with students who are visibly disabled,” Ferguson said. “When the disabilities office came to talk to us they should’ve brought a person with a visible disability and have them stay with us for the rest of the day so we can chat with them and get some advice from someone who has a visible disability.”