On August 23rd, Swarthmore’s newest students — the Class of 2020 — arrived on campus to start their five-day orientation program. New changes were implemented in the program, both by the administration and Orientation Committee.
At 415 students, this year’s freshman class is slightly larger than last year’s class of 407, which is in accordance with the college’s goal of gradually growing the enrollment.
“We’re halfway through a strategic plan to increase the student population a little bit,” said Jim Bock ’90, Vice President and Dean of Admissions said.
“So we’ve been adding ten, fifteen students every year to grow the college, in addition to supporting our current students.”
Efforts by the admissions committee also made the new class more diverse in terms of experience, geography, and socio-economic background. A change in admissions policy last admissions cycle that allowed applicants who are undocumented to be read as domestic applicants helped bring more such students to campus. Another goal of the admissions committee was to grow the number of international students.
“This is the third class whose international population is over 10%,” Dean Bock said. “And that’s something we’ve been working toward.”
The percentage of students who are the first generation in their family to attend college is 20% this year, the highest ever since the admissions office has started tracking statistics. One thing that has stayed constant, though, is the college’s dedication to building a well-rounded class with a wide range of interests.
During orientation, the new students were introduced to the resources at Swarthmore. Campus tours highlighted the Lang Center of Civic and Social Responsibility and Worth Health Center/CAPS, whose buildings lie outside the main portion of campus. Career Services talked to the students about externships and resume editing. The academic advising fair helped students choose their first courses, while library orientation sessions familiarized students with the shared Tri-Consortium systems. The class-wide presentations on gender and identity, alcohol and drugs, and healthy relationships were held and followed by facilitated discussions in smaller groups afterwards.
Sacha Lin ’20 was impressed by how her peers spoke about these issues.
“I was surprised at how well the speakers were able to facilitate discussions with students in such a large lecture hall. There was an actual back-and-forth, so I got to hear from a lot of different perspectives at each presentation,” she said. “It seemed like a good number of my classmates weren’t afraid to speak up. I was though, so it was really nice to have more intimate discussions afterwards with the people on my floor.”
The students also had many chances to meet their classmates.The orientation committee, co-directed by Grant Torre ’17 and Min Cheng ’18, placed extra emphasis on organizing more social gatherings than previous years . Events like the ice cream social in Wharton courtyard, Capture the Flag on Mertz field, and the Speed Friending in Upper Tarble provided many such opportunities and had high levels of engagement. Torre explained the reasoning behind more events.
“In the past few years, there haven’t been that many options for first-year students beyond one evening activity, and we really wanted to supplement that so that there was a wide range,” he said. People were able choose what they wanted to do.”
There were also additional sessions, such as First Generation Family and Friends Welcome reception and a Questbridge Scholar dinner, to help specific groups of students to get to know each other
One of the major events of Orientation Week was the Class of 2020 photo organized on Mertz field. Andrew Barclay, the Assistant Director of Student Life, Leadership, and Engagement, said “Nearly the entire class showed up for the class picture, forming a human 2020 on Mertz field. The Committee hopes this will become a new tradition, creating an archive of pictures for the institution and helping cement the identity of each incoming class.”
The system of Orientation Leaders (OLs)was also reintroduced this year. OLs acted as the main liaisons between the orientation groups and the Orientation Committee, answering any questions the Student Academic Mentors (SAMs), Resident Assistants (RAs), Diversity Peer Advisors (DPAs), and GAs (Green Advisors) may have about the orientation schedules and events. They were also responsible for helping to facilitate the nightly discussions after each presentation, and made sure that the events organized by the committee ran smoothly.
Orientation Committee member and OL Clarisse Phillips viewed the experience positively.
“I had a great experience planning orientation,” she said. ” We all really wanted the new students to feel welcome, get to know campus and have a good time, and I think that sentiment was present every minute we spent on the project. Everyone who came early knew that’s what they were there for and put in the time and effort to make the project a success.”
Fellow Orientation Leader Zain Talukdar echoed similar thoughts, but also added a suggestion for OLs to join their orientation groups at lunch.
As for orientation next year, the administration is currently collecting feedback from the students, Orientation Committee, and Orientation Leaders to make any necessary changes to the program.
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