Pomona shortens OA, overhauls orientation programming

A group of six students squat in a circle, all holding candles and smiling at each other.
Bryce Wachtell PO ’21, Alice Tan PO ’19, Libby Rose PO ’19, Nicole Talisay PO ’20, Lauryn Cravens PO ’21, and Tanvi Jhunjhunwala PO ’22 celebrate a birthday during an OA trip, all of which will be shortened by a day and a half under the new changes. (Courtesy: Outdoor Education Center)

Pomona College is planning a slew of changes to its first-year orientation programming, designed to increase awareness of campus resources and maximize students’ time to “breathe and acclimate.”

In one significant alteration, Orientation Adventure will be shortened by a day and a half, according to an email from Director of Outdoor Education Martin Crawford to returning OA leaders.

The school is also adding two Los Angeles-based trips — one to museums and cultural attractions and another to major LA sights including the Hollywood Walk of Fame. These trips, as well as the pre-existing “Community Engagement” trip, will be housed on campus, a change from usual OA practice, Crawford said.

Crawford added that Josh Eisenberg, dean of campus life and orientation planning group chair, requested this change.

For Eisenberg, these city-based trips fit his goals for OA just as well as outdoors trips do.

“I think if we’re going to offer a diversity of experiences, we need to offer a true diversity of experiences,” Eisenberg said. “My goal for OA is to have people find friends, connect to the campus and have an ease of a transition. If they’re challenged, that’s great, that’s amazing, but that’s not my goal for OA.” 

“It’s your first thing on campus. … If you just want to go visit LA, because you would enjoy that, I think it’s okay to enjoy the first part of your college experience,” Eisenberg added. “If there are people who choose that because it’d be a challenge, to me that’s an extra layer.” 

John West PO ’23, first-year class president and orientation planning group member, mentioned that the added trips also accommodate students who may feel out of their element on an extended wilderness excursion. 

“Before we started the planning discussions, I sat in a meeting with Josh Eisenberg myself so he could talk to me,” West said. “We’ve talked about … how some students come from urban backgrounds, and aren’t actually comfortable going into the wilderness and shouldn’t be forced into the wilderness.”

A previous plan to move OA to students’ sophomore year was met with fierce resistance from the student body and was ultimately reversed. Eisenberg said that he knew shortening OA might prove controversial.

“We knew that was probably the most challenging change we were making. We know how passionate people are about OA,” Eisenberg said. “Part of the problem is … people want contradicting things. We really had to look at what the schedule would look like, and what we decided was, as great as OA is, that it had to be the thing that was shortened.”

“I think if we’re going to offer a diversity of experiences, we need to offer a true diversity of experiences.”

–Dean of campus life Josh Eisenberg

A variety of factors, including liability issues, went into the OA-related decisions, according to Eisenberg.

“One, transporting people far distances … there’s liability aspects, with people being far away, God forbid a tragedy happens. We just felt like it would be important to keep people closer,” he said. “The experience everyone tells me about OA is the closeness and the connection, and that stuff we didn’t want to lose, and we think you can do that two hours away or four hours away.”

Eisenberg emphasized that the choice to shorten OA was unrelated to financing. 

“We did nothing [based] on budgeting. This is not about money at all. This is about safety, liability, comfort and inclusivity,” Eisenberg said. 

The modified OA is just one of the planned changes to Pomona’s overall orientation. The changes are coming primarily in response to feedback from a post-orientation survey of first-years.

Pomona has readjusted its learning outcomes for orientation, Eisenberg said, to focus on simple goals like making sure students make friends to have meals with, are able to describe the liberal arts and know faculty members they can approach with questions.

“Keeping the programming focused around those outcomes, rather than trying to fit absolutely everything in … in order to build some cohesiveness while making these changes, we needed to focus on whether each activity, and each program, really supported the kind of outcome we were looking for,” said Director of Academic Administration Katrina Sitar, who also co-chairs the orientation planning group. 

This fall’s orientation programming will include new sessions on topics such as mindfulness and wellness, technologies like Handshake, ethical reasoning and compassion, affinity groups and their resources and students’ non-college-specific questions like how health insurance works, Eisenberg and West said.

Orientation will also focus on familiarizing students with the campus, including a campus tour. According to Eisenberg, 53 percent of the class of 2023 had never visited Pomona before orientation.

First-years also complained about a lack of free time and information overload, according to West.

“I personally didn’t believe, for me, that time was being utilized in the best way, and there was probably a better and more intentional way,” West said.

The new schedule will more clearly indicate what time is unscheduled and provide suggestions for how students can utilize it if they’d like to, Eisenberg said.

West said he has high hopes for orientation in August and is optimistic that the changes will adequately address students’ concerns.

“I’m liking the direction that we’re going,” he said.

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