Orientation Leaders finding new ways to connect with Class of 2023

This period of online learning and social distancing has presented a new opportunity for community building for Elon's student orientation leaders.

As students spend the second semester of their 2019-20 academic year studying from home, it can be nice to hear from a friendly voice that knows exactly what you’re going through.

“It helps to assess the situation from their shoes when you’re literally in their shoes with them,” said Miles Caraballo ’22, a music education major and orientation leader at Elon.

Orientation leaders like Caraballo are some of the first people first-year and transfer students meet when they arrive at Elon on Move-In Day. After leading students through the orientation process, the mentors spend the rest of the year making sure each new student is adjusting to the campus community by hosting events or simply checking in throughout the following months.

Taylor De Castro ’22 (center) poses for a photo with students in her orientation group. (Photo courtesy: Taylor De Castro ’22)

This semester, orientation leaders have had their training put to the test as students, faculty and staff have transitioned to online learning procedures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Over the past few weeks, instead of meeting in person with their students, orientation leaders have found ways to stay connected virtually.

Some have played virtual games, hosted virtual Netflix parties, and found other ways to keep students engaged in the university community. For international business major Taylor de Castro ‘22, keeping in touch was as simple as creating a group text chat with students to share cute dog photos.

“We understand their situation better since we’re going through it ourselves, and it helps us be more understanding and empathetic of the situation as a whole,” de Castro said.

Caraballo has hosted video conferences with the students in his orientation group. “Even though we’re not there with them right now, I can still stay connected through texts, video chats or FaceTime just to still be able to give a listening ear for them,” he said.

Situations like this, although unprecedented, are exactly why orientation leaders are such an important part of the student experience at Elon. They work with first-year and transfer students throughout the year to make sure their transition to campus is as smooth as possible, even if “campus” is back in their hometowns for a few months.

De Castro (first row, far right) Caraballo (middle row, second from right) pose for a photo with the 2019-20 orientation leaders. (Photo courtesy: Taylor De Castro ’22)

“Transitions are mitigated and eased by the social connections that we have and the positive role models that we have who have gone through it before us,” said Director of New Student and Transitions Programs Emily Krechel. “Connecting with them provides a sense of ease and a sense of connectedness that helps us build a resolve of our human spirit to survive a crisis or to survive an upheaval of our normal lives.”

Krechel says the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent social distancing procedures, came at a time when many new students were just finding their communities at Elon. So reconnecting with their orientation groups virtually can give them a sense of grounding and an opportunity for community building.

As the campus continues to navigate these uncertain times, orientation leaders will play an important role in helping Elon move forward. It’s a role that will include making sure each student knows – no matter the social distance – no one is alone in the Elon community.

“This situation has really encouraged me to make an even larger effort in the future to make more contact with the students and really establish these relationships so they know that I’m not just here because I’m in a position that tells me I should be here, but I’m here because I want to be here and want to help them and be their friend,” de Castro said.