FGCU's Orientation Team Gives An Inside Look At What College Orientation Is Like During A Pandemic
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FGCU's Orientation Team Gives An Inside Look At What College Orientation Is Like During A Pandemic

We never could have imagined welcoming the incoming Florida Gulf Coast University freshmen through Zoom... but here we are.

Group of fgcu students

In the month of October, Florida Gulf Coast University started searching for the orientation team for the upcoming summer. Eager to make an impact on the incoming class and make great memories over the summer, I sent in my application, and next thing I knew I was part of a team that was training to welcome incoming freshman. We were gearing up to get ready for the summer with final trainings and ordering our shirts when everything came to a halt because of the pandemic.

We quickly learned that all orientation programs would become virtual, and we had to adapt fast. We changed the programs and how they would be ran, and it became clear that it was different than how normal orientation programs usually are. It was going to be a summer to remember, no doubt. So with that being said, I decided that I'd get the inside scoop from each crew member on how the job works and what the summer is like running FGCU's first ever virtual orientation program.

Meet The Admin Crew

Caitlin Swan

The administration crew, or as we call it - the admin crew, is made up of three students and one supervisor. We handle things on the back end like answering emails and making sure students attend their programs. Here's a bit about each of us:

Caitlin Swan (me): Sophomore, majoring in Journalism. Joined the orientation team because I wanted to make an impact on the incoming class just like my orientation leader, Matty B, did for me and my orientation experience.

Aurely Garcia Tulloch: Senior, majoring in Management. Joined the orientation team because she could still take classes on campus over the summer and get free summer housing.

Giovani Casseus, also known as Gio: Senior, majoring in Psychology. Joined the orientation team because he thinks helping students experience a good first impression of FGCU would be great.

Meet The Parent Crew

The parent crew is made up of two students and one supervisor, and they do exactly what you think they would do - they help with the parent and family orientation program and answer questions from the parents of incoming freshman. Here's a bit about each of them:

Joe Cusick: Junior, majoring in Health Science with a minor in Spanish. Joined the orientation team because he wanted to be able to facilitate and have the incoming students create relationships with each other so they could find their home at FGCU.

Meet The Student Crew

Caitlin Swan

The student crew is one of the first faces students see when they come to FGCU - they're known as Orientation Leaders or OLs for short. This crew is made up of 15 students and one supervisor. Here's a bit about a few of the OLs:

Matthew Bonilla, also known as Matty B: Senior, majoring in English. Joined the orientation team because he didn't have the best first year experience, so he made it his mission to make sure that other's don't have to go through the same first year experience that he went through.

Anthony Rattigan: Senior, majoring in Health Science. Joined the orientation team because he wanted to make a huge impact on the incoming class to remind them that they aren't alone, and if they ever need anything, that he's there. Anthony is also a first generation student and had great guidance from his mentor, Raliyah Dawson, and wants to do the same thing for others that she did for him.

Sami Maddox: Sophomore, majoring in Instrumental Music Education with a concentration in Saxophone. Joined the orientation team to help make a difference in the students' transition from high school to college.

What did you expect being on the orientation team to be like?

Caitlin: I was expecting it to be fun and a new adventure in my life but also for it to teach me some good life skills.

Aurely: I was expecting a lot of walking and exercise. I remember going to my orientation and walking in the heat everywhere with people who were excited to be walking in the heat. I was also expecting to meet new people and make new friends.

Gio: I expected it to be lots of moving around and doing donuts in a golf cart and enjoying a less busy campus and seeing the faces of excited new students.

Joe: I expected it to be upbeat and a very inclusive atmosphere. I just tried going into this job with an open mind.

Matty B: This is my second year, so I expected it to be the same, but even more fun because I would have been going into the experience knowing what to expect and serve as a mentor for new OLs.

Anthony: I was expecting it to be a learning process, even though it's not in-person like it was meant to be, I'm still grateful for the opportunity.

Sami: I was expecting long days with the students, campus tours, presentations, and the after dark games.

What is it actually like being on the orientation team during a pandemic?

Caitlin: It's different than normal; I don't get to see my coworkers in-person, just through Zoom and FaceTime, and it's a lot of staring at a screen all day. But it's still fun. I even got to be a part of something that my crew usually isn't a part of - the off-to-college skit we do via Zoom.

Aurely: Since admin does a lot of the technical side of things, making sure Zoom calls are scheduled and assisting students via email is a big part of the job. A lot of FaceTime is involved, too.

Gio: It's the opposite of what I expected - we work from home on the computer and create the Zoom links, take attendance, answer emails, set up Canvas pages - all the technical work instead of hands-on work.

Joe: It's not as fast-paced because it's online, so we have a lot of downtime, but the atmosphere is still very much alive.

Matty B: Its made me love working remotely! I'm still able to connect with students, and it's nice to know that we're all united under the shared umbrella of experiencing the pandemic. I, for one, embrace the virtual revolution and am excited to see how the pandemic affects the world post-pandemic.

Anthony: It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I feel like I'm still making a positive impact in a way; you don't need to be in-person to make an impact on a student's life.

Sami: Our meetings are on Zoom so we still get to meet our small groups, but it's a little harder to make connections.

How does it compare to past summers?

Matty B: A lot more lonely at times but still rewarding. Definitely a lot less sweaty, as well, since we don't have to be out in the sun at all. I wasn't happy about it at first since this is the last year I can be an Orientation Leader, but it definitely has been a unique experience.

What's your favorite part of this summer despite it being virtual?

Caitlin: I love that I got to know my crew and made some great friends out of it, as well as knowing that I'm one of the first people incoming students interact with so I'm still making an impact.

Aurely: My favorite part of this summer has been playing Fortnite with admin crew and having late night chats with my favorite people.

Gio: My favorite part is not having to drive to work and being able to be in a comfortable position while working with incredible people.

Joe: My favorite part of summer is being able to work with all the people I see on a daily basis. It's something I look forward to on the weekend when I'm not around my people.

Matty B: EVO (Eagle View Orientation) After Dark! I love reality TV game shows so much and being able to host my very own through the late night activities that are offered through EVO has been so much fun! I host a game called "The Elimination Room" which is based off of game shows like "Survivor" and "Big Brother." I love seeing how much students enjoy the game and it's always so rewarding to see their growth from introductions to finale. It's even inspired me to start my very own Registered Student Organization in the fall! Follow us, @fgcupixel, for future updates.

Anthony: My favorite part of the summer is meeting all the incoming students and living with my team while still being safe during the pandemic.

Sami: Getting to meet my students and talk to them is my favorite part - making those connections is why I came to this job.

Any words of wisdom for incoming students?

Caitlin: This is a new chapter in your life, make the most of it and just live in the moment. Make friends and memories, get involved, do everything you do for yourself and your future - it may be scary being on your own and being in college, but it's worth it, I promise.

Aurely: Come in with a plan of things you want to get done and do them

Gio: Listen to your gut, it's right most of the time, your stomach is always right. If you're at a function and think something bad is bound to happen and your stomach feels uneasy, leave. Also, your true self is the most amazing self.

Joe: Try not to look at FGCU at a superficial level. There's so many opportunities for you to grow as a person and really find those life long friends. Get involved in anything you find interesting.

Matty B: Choose your attitude! From back when I was the leader of the Pythons to now as the leader of the Bears, I have always pushed that quote. It's a quote from one of my favorite people in the world, Lindsey John. Lindsey would always tell Resident Assistants this quote during training. I always tell my students that if you go into a situation thinking "I'm going to hate this" or "I know this is going to be lame, and I'm not going to enjoy it" then you're probably not going to have a good time. But if you enter a situation thinking that it'll be a rewarding experience and that you'll have a good time, then you will most likely have an enjoyable experience.

Anthony: Stay true to yourself. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't accomplish something because if you put your mind to it and are determined, you can do anything.

Sami: Step outside of your comfort zone and try some new things. The best way to meet new people and find out who you are is by getting involved in something you're passionate about. Don't be scared that you're missing out on anything, everyone in your class and at FGCU is in thr exact same boat. We all are adapting to the state of the world and our potential virtual education. Coming to FGCU was the best decision I've ever made, and I hope you fall in love with this amazing university the way I did. There are so many opportunities at your fingertips, so take advantage of them.

This is what the summer is like for the Orientation team at Florida Gulf Coast University, but we're making the best of it, one day, one smile, one Zoom meeting, and one "Wings Up" at a time. As we like to always say at FGCU: Wings Up, Eagles!

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