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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 15, 2024

Meet the students behind pre-orientation programming at Tufts

Peer leaders across several pre-orientation programs reflect on mentorship, growth and the value of community.

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The staff of TWO is pictured outside the Loj in Woodstock, N.H., in August 2023.

The transition from high school to college can be a daunting experience, especially for those traveling far from home to spend the next four years in Medford/Somerville.

Tufts aims to support incoming Jumbos with their adjustment through an optional opportunity: pre-orientation programs. Pre-Os, as they are known around campus, allow students to get a jump start on building a community, pair up with upperclassmen mentors and leaders and meet other students whose interests or identities may align with their own.  

With over half of the incoming first-year class participating in a Pre-O, a large variety of driven Tufts students is necessary to coordinate and lead these programs.

Carly Rothschild, a sophomore peer leader for the Students Heightening Actionable Political Engagement program, was drawn to the peer leader position due to her positive experience with Pre-O as a first-year.

“Experiencing [Pre-O] firsthand, and seeing how Tufts is dedicated to welcoming our first-years made me want to be a part of that whole orientation programming community,” Rothschild said. “I think it’s really special what Tufts does, in the sense that they provide so many opportunities for first-years to apply to what they're interested in and meet other students that are like-minded.”

SHAPE, a new Pre-O that launched for the first time in fall 2023, connects students with resources for civic engagement and community involvement. However, Rothschild found the relationships and community built through SHAPE were just as impactful.

“I didn’t know any of the peer leaders, and now some of them are really close friends,” Rothschild said. “When you’re in that environment with like-minded people who want to be on campus to welcome first-years and show Tufts’ values. … It’s a really special experience and I wasn’t expecting to get as much out of it [as] I did.”

Rothschild is returning to SHAPE in the fall of 2024 as a student coordinator, and wishes to expand the program to a larger variety of interests within the intersection of civic engagement and politics.

“We’re looking to scale up in terms of the amount of participants, and, with that, I think it’d be really cool to have multiple concentrations,” Rothschild said. “This past year we focused a lot on health equity and access to technology. … I think it could also be cool to have those same hands-on experiences and let students choose whether they want to concentrate on maybe housing, health equity, climate change and other issues.”

Similar to Rothschild, Abigail Pineda, a sophomore student coordinator for Building Engagement and Access for Students at Tufts for 2024, had a good Pre-O experience thanks to her peer leader and wanted to give back to the community that supported her during the start of college.

“When I did do BEAST, I felt my [peer leader] made the experience very comfortable and I felt seen and heard and [like] my feelings were validated,” Pineda said. “Being grateful to have a [peer leader] that made me feel comfortable in this space made me want to give back and be there for other people and other incoming [first-years].”

However, being responsible for an entire cohort of first-year students during such a pivotal moment in their college experience is not an easy task. Communication, emotional intelligence, time management and listening skills are all necessary skills that peer leaders must learn to utilize during their time volunteering for Pre-O programs.

“You are the person they’re learning from. … You’re in charge of the whole group. … You have to pay attention to your mentees and make sure they’re good.” Pineda said.

BEAST is geared toward first-generation, undocumented and low-income students, and the resources and opportunities it provides remain valuable for both its participants and leaders throughout their time at Tufts.

“Even if we didn’t [all] share similar identities, just having that core ‘Oh you too?’… you slowly start to realize everybody goes through similar things. You feel comfortable. You feel connected,” Pineda said. “I specifically chose BEAST because I wanted to feel that connected. I wanted to feel that sense of being seen and feeling like I belong. Being first-gen was kind of scary, and so I just wanted to ensure that I was … in [a] community with people who understood that.”

Senior Claire Bolash is a Tufts Wilderness Orientation student coordinator for fall of 2024. She was both a participant and leader for TWO, and, after working on ways to improve the program before her senior year, became interested in the coordinator position.

“Over the summer, I worked with one of the [coordinators] to restructure the mental health training, and I [realized] I like thinking about TWO and how to plan all of these things on this bigger institutional level,” Bolash said. “After TWO ended this year, I found myself thinking a lot about the program and feeling like there was so much more I wanted to engage with the program and also the community [about].”

To lead a TWO trip, leaders undergo training and learn to build confidence in their judgment to make tough decisions for their groups.

“I think the challenge that every leader faces, whether or not it’s their first trip or their second, is … knowing that you can trust yourself and you’ll make the right decision,” Bolash said. “Learning to trust myself and learning to feel confident in my decision-making and my training was definitely a big learning curve.”

But Pre-O leaders can also gain more from their role than training and mentorship opportunities. Bolash was initially surprised by the strong community that binds the TWO staff together.

“I wasn’t aware of what being on staff would be like in terms of how it’s a community that continues to show up for each other all of the time. … Everyone is very caring and very approachable,” Bolash said. “That’s something I didn’t expect to gain from being a leader. … Having joined such an amazing community that shows so much care and mutual support to each other was a huge advantage and something that makes me keep coming back to this space time and time again.”

As a student coordinator, Bolash aims to emphasize TWO’s values of making the outdoors accessible to all, regardless of previous experience.

"What I've always loved about TWO is it was such an awesome avenue for me to enter into outdoor recreation and outdoor spaces,” Bolash said. “You don't need to have any outdoor experience to join staff. And so what I'm hoping to do during my time as [a student coordinator is] to continue that ethos and [make] our space feel more comfortable and approachable.”

An enduring feature of many of these Pre-O programs is the community that persists after the program itself, and that the first years continually utilize the connections and relationships acquired during Pre-O.

“Seeing that [former participants are] actively looking for you outside of the pre-orientation has made me realize that people do see me as a leader. I have responsibilities to give back; I want to give back,” Pineda said.

The Pre-O experience is an enriching experience for all of those involved, and being able to actively contribute to the Tufts community in such a meaningful way is what continues to capture the interest of first-years and upperclassmen alike.

“I think my experience [during] pre-orientation both as a participant and a peer leader, again, made me realize how important this one week is for incoming [first-years],” Rothschild said. “I really like the core values that Tufts instills in students through this pre-orientation, with the diversity of interests and people to learn from and people to meet.”