The Time I Led Orientation as a First Year at Manitoba

I started my first year of university in May of 2004 with full-time courses during the summer session - not exactly a traditional start.

In June of that year, I went to my faculty office to request to sign up for orientation activities. Here's the thing, not only had I started in May, but at Manitoba, almost all first year students are placed in a faculty called University 1. I was directly admitted into the Faculty of Arts, and there were only a handful of us first years in the faculty. (My memory is vague, but I recall the number either being 7 or 8).

I was directed by my Faculty to email University 1, explain that I was a first-year direct admit, and I wanted to sign up for an orientation group.

(Aside: while I'm about to note an absurdity of university administration, I strongly believe Manitoba's use of a first-year faculty is brilliant because it directs strong supports for first-years and enables first-years to explore a wide-range of subjects before determining their program of degree study.)

I emailed, and U1 responded stating I needed to visit their office to register.

I went to the University 1 office to sign up for orientation. The person on the other side of the counter handed me the sheet to volunteer at orientation.

I explained that I wanted to sign up to be orientated, she said that wasn't possible but that I could volunteer at the main tent handing out orientation kits. I again stated I was a first year, she stated that I wasn't a traditional first year and orientation was really for younger students (I was 22).

I gave up, and decided to embrace the absurdity - plus being a volunteer meant I would have a pass for events.

The influence of my military service was very much at play here - in the Army you have to embrace stupidity because challenging stupidity usually results in a charge and very negative career consequences as you make yourself a target.

Volunteer Trivia Test

The next stage was a volunteer orientation session that included individual quizzes on campus locations, facilities, services, and history.

Each night, I took a random jog around campus, so I knew the locations of nearly all the buildings and services. Living on campus, I regularly walked the tunnels in the evening while listening to radio shows, taking note of computer labs and art pieces in the tunnels. I heavily researched three universities before choosing Manitoba, I was decently familiar with the academic units. History, I spent many evenings in the Dafoe Library reading old editions of the student newspaper to familiarize myself with the history of my new home.

Needless to say, I aced the test.

A couple of days later, U1 emailed me. I was no longer assigned to handing out materials - I was now a campus tour guide.

Campus Tour Guide

At this point, in hindsight, I really should've stopped the whole thing but really protesting that I was a first year student, but now I was really annoyed at the stupidity.

I went to a training session, and despite my stating that I was a first-year and had only arrived on campus three months prior, U1 made me the leader of my orientation team. Of the other three in the group, one was a fourth-year, and the other two were second year.

Orientation Day

Orientation day arrived, and I went early in the day to get my package. The package included instructions on how to conduct the day.

There was much emphasis upon showing the new students campus services. Not academic services however, but where they could buy things. I was instructed to encourage the new students to buy clothing, off-campus meal plans, parking passes, and tickets to university sporting events.

The package stated the walk around campus should attempt to show the new students the buildings they would have classes, and included times for me to get the students signed up for parking passes.

I decided this was absurd. Instead, I asked the students what buildings they had classes in, plotting them on a map, and we walked pass each of those buildings - we passed each of the libraries the students could use, and I showed them where various student support services were. Once that was done, we ended at the main bus area, and I took them into the tunnel system to the largest computer lab on campus.

It was 2004, and the computer account system was separate from registration - nearly all the students had not yet activiated their accounts.

Activating your on-campus computer account was not difficult, but it wasn't easy. I took my group into the computer lab, and we activated our computer accounts. Then to the library to purchase print cards, and then we ended the tour early (there was plenty of time scheduled for parking passes and the university making money) by taking those who needed to visit the financial aid office to sign their student loans there, and the remainder of the group to the Quad for festivities.

As for myself, there was an orientation leaders afternoon party, but I didn't attend - I decided to go back to the computer lab to work on my blog.

A couple days later, I got called into the University 1 office, and asked to explain how my group purchased no meal plans, and no parking passes. At this point, administration noted that I shouldn't have even an orientation volunteer - let alone a lead guide.

I took out my trusty Palm Pilot, showed them the email trail, and my ass was covered for that. They did let me know that based upon the lack of following instructions to line up for meal plans and parking passes, I would not be a guide again.

As for the first years I gave the tour to, in the coming days, a few stopped me on campus and thanked me for getting them setup; saying many of their friends had to wait in long lines for computer account problems, and to get library print cards - and yes, much like I did in May of that year, they had already adopted the first year look of university hoodie, and lanyards.