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    Students welcoming students

    How do you help nearly 5,000 incoming undergraduate students join the Queen’s community each fall? Just ask the Orientation Roundtable.

    Photograph of Massimo Recupero and Mariah Keeling, Coordinators of the Orientation Roundtable
    Massimo Recupero and Mariah Keeling, Coordinators of the Orientation Roundtable.

    First-year undergraduates arrived at Queen’s this past weekend and have been busy settling into new living spaces, adjusting to campus, and building community with their peers through orientation events. It is such a special time at the university partly because many of the orientation events are organized and led by large teams of students who want to welcome their new peers and show them what the Queen’s community is all about. The Student Experience Office in Queen’s Student Affairs also organizes university orientation events open to all incoming undergraduate students.

    At the centre of all student-led faculty orientation planning for undergraduates is the Orientation Roundtable (ORT), which is a commission of the Alma Mater Society (AMS). With faculty orientation activities continuing until Sept. 10, the Queen’s Gazette connected with Mariah Keeling, who studied in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program before being accepted into medical school at McMaster, and Massimo Recupero, fourth-year student in concurrent education, who have shared the role of ORT Coordinator this year. At first, Keeling was the Coordinator and Recupero was the Assistant Coordinator, then Recupero stepped into the role when Keeling left Queen’s to attend medical school.

    The two of them provide insight into what’s new at faculty orientation this year, what’s changed following the pandemic, and why upper-year students volunteer their time to welcome new students.

    The Orientation Roundtable oversees the planning of all the student-led activities across the nine faculty and school orientations. Who does this body bring together to make faculty orientation possible?  And what is the role of the ORT in bringing everything to life?

    Mariah Keeling (MK): Orientation Roundtable is the newest commission under the AMS. It oversees all higher-level planning and execution of our student-led undergraduate orientation activities and it also collaborates with external and internal stakeholders to make sure all events go smoothly. Within Queen’s we collaborate on orientation policy with Senate, and we work with groups such as Student Affairs to make sure that student-led orientation events align with events organized by the university. Externally, the roundtable works with stakeholders such as the Kingston Police to ensure that the impact of orientation on the broader community is as positive as it is on Queen’s.

    There are six members of the roundtable, and each one oversees a large, systematic piece of orientation, such as logistics or equity. The coordinator of the roundtable plays a highly supportive role of the five other members and oversees the broader portfolio.

    How many students are involved in organizing orientation and what are some of the different roles they take on?

    MK: In addition to the six of us on the roundtable, there are approximately 100 orientation executives across the faculties and schools. These are the student leaders who plan the events for incoming students in their faculties. Then there are approximately 850 orientation leaders, who run the orientation groups and have direct contact with new students. They facilitate events, enable participation, and also serve as mentors and guides for new students. Altogether, then, there are about 1,000 students who work to make orientation possible.

    Massimo Recupero (MR): It’s important to emphasize that these 1,000 students are volunteering their time for other students. When you think about Queen’s, you think about the strong sense of community that the student body has. And I think a large part of that is due to the warm welcome students have from the leaders at orientation.

    Photograph of student orientation leaders addressing incoming students at orientation event in Richardson Stadium
    Recupero (far right) addressing incoming students at Richardson Stadium alongside the student executives of faculty orientation.

    Is there anything new or notable in how faculty orientation is being run this year?

    MR: We’ve revised the training of orientation executives and leaders to make it more purposeful and impactful. One priority was to make the training more flexible to make sure that our orientation volunteers have time for their other responsibilities and for self-care. And we wanted to make sure that people who want to take part in orientation weren’t necessarily excluded because of circumstances with their lease or employment.

    Now that we’re back to full in-person orientation after the pandemic, we’re also seeing the faculties try new things with their events. For instance, we’re continuing to see more inter-faculty events, and it’s really great to see students have the chance to make bonds across the university. Even though we’re back to fully in-person orientation doesn’t mean we have to go back to exactly what it was before. We can look forward and continue to come up with new ideas.  

    Why did you want to become Coordinator of the Orientation Roundtable?

    MK: I came to Queen’s in 2020, so my orientation was completely virtual, though still really enjoyable. I had a great connection with my orientation leaders, so I wanted to give back to the Queen’s community and get involved. I was an orientation leader at the end of my first year, then served as executive chair for Health Sciences my second year. That experience gave me a lot of insight into the higher-level planning that goes into orientation and into how orientation affects a whole population of students. I wanted to bring what I’d learned into the role of Orientation Roundtable Coordinator, and I was curious about the challenge of working across the faculties and finding ways to meet the needs of their different students and programs.

    MR: I was drawn to serving on the Orientation Roundtable because I saw there was room to make a difference in the way we conduct training and handle incident reporting, which both fall under the portfolio of the Assistant Coordinator. I happily accepted the opportunity to take on the position of Coordinator when Mariah left for medical school. Having seen orientation from the perspective of an incoming student, an orientation leader, and an executive, I wanted to take what I’ve learned and help support people in those different roles.

    What are some of the memories that stick with you most from your own orientation or previous orientations you’ve worked on at Queen’s? And what are you hoping the new group of students takes away from their orientation experience?

    MK: One of my strongest memories is serving as an orientation leader during the coverall painting event, where everyone wears coveralls with their year and faculty on them and paints each other over big tarps. It’s a momentous part of orientation for the faculties that do it. I remember music playing, it was a beautiful day outside, everyone was happy, and you could see the community being built there on the spot.

    MR: I always like to say I’ve never started a year at Queen’s not in orientation. So I have made a lot of memories. One that sticks out from my first-year orientation was seeing how actively involved students are on the Queen’s campus. That made me very excited about the opportunities I realized I could pursue over my time here.

    For this year’s orientation, I hope our orientation leaders take away a confidence in themselves and their abilities. I hope our new first-year students realize the strong support system they have at Queen’s, and get a strong introduction to not only the Queen’s community but also their new home, Kingston. And I hope they have fun!