Section: Features

New students backpack and raft in pre-orientation program

In August, 32 adventurous first years participated in the annual pre-orientation trip. The excursion entailed four days of backpacking in the Dolly Sods Wilderness of West Virginia, followed by white-water rafting on the New River Gorge. 

Director of First Year Experience Don Miller shared his perspective on the trip. “It exposes students to the outdoors and reinforces that experience with the outdoors, but also connects them with other students before they get to campus booked,” he said. For Miller, determining the pre-orientation events and programming for first-year students requires devising new opportunities for students. During the past two years, the College has partnered with alumni to organize virtual and in-person welcome programming in the summer. 

Ethan Manske ’26 detailed the sentimentality that accompanied his move to college. “It was an emotional time that hit me a lot harder than I thought. It didn’t feel real to be leaving home, and I just couldn’t accept it. That’s what made packing so difficult for me, and what made move-in day feel like such a daunting task.” For Manske, the pre-orientation program provided him with a foundation that would smooth his transition into the Kenyon community and initiate long-lasting bonds. “You get to experience nature with them, be scared, have fun, laugh and all the like together,” he said.

“This was absolutely one of the best years for the program,” said Emily Heithaus, assistant athletics director for fitness and recreation at the College and a staff member on the trip. “The outcome of the program is to ease the first-year transition to college life by using the outdoor and informal setting to develop social networks, promote teamwork, learn outdoor and life skills.” Heithaus, who worked on trip logistics, safety plans, general administration and assisted with the application process, attributes the success of the trip to well-prepared and highly skilled “all-around good people who mentored the heck out of their groups.” 

For Heithaus, there are more good memories from the trip than she could possibly convey, but she recalled, “A few include: random conversations ranging from video games to philosophy, coming upon a scenic view along the way and noticing that everyone was just standing there grinning in appreciation of nature, doing a portion of a hike with one of the groups as a silent reflection, spending an afternoon in a creek looking for crayfish, getting my trail name for the trip and stargazing with first years at Adventures on the Gorge.”

For many students, however, the most rewarding part of the trip came after it was over, with connections that would last beyond the six days of the program. “The connections you make on that trip are long lasting,” Manske said. “And they happen quick. It’s only a six day trip. And somehow in those six days, I made friends that I feel like I’ve known since fourth grade.”

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