Arriving at college can be intimidating. It may be the first significant amount of time students have spent away from home, and they may be across the country—or even the ocean—from their families and friends. 

From finding out where classes will be held to discovering the best off-campus locations to grab a bite to eat, there is a lot to learn as students adjust to their new surroundings. But as they take those first steps on the Case Western Reserve University campus, they have a built-in support system: orientation leaders, commonly known on campus as OLs.

Recognized for their enthusiasm, campus knowledge and friendly nature, orientation leaders guide new students through Discover Week to ensure a smooth transition to life at Case Western Reserve. 

Michelle Tun poses for a photo with her 2021 orientation group with all students wearing masks
Michelle Yun and her 2021 orientation group

Throughout the week, orientation leaders spend time bonding with small groups of about 20 students, sharing essential information and making sure new students make it to events. While every orientation leader’s day may be different, there is one constant: Each is full of opportunities to connect with incoming students—and help them feel at ease in their new home.

To get a feel for what Discover Week looks like from an orientation leader’s perspective, The Daily sat down with Michelle Yun, a junior from Hershey, Pennsylvania, majoring in cognitive science—one of more than 140 OLs this year. 

Yun shared her schedule from Monday, Aug. 22—the first full day of Discover Week and the day when families typically depart campus—as an example of the jam-packed schedules the university’s dedicated OLs lead.

10:30 a.m.

I was stationed on the corner of Adelbert [Road] and Euclid [Avenue] to direct families and students if they needed help. Many parents just wanted a photo at the famous Case Western Reserve University sign!

1:30 p.m.

After lunch at Leutner [Commons], orientation small groups met to go over the week’s schedule, reflect on how to maintain personal wellness, and answer any questions.

3 p.m.

I left early for the final rehearsal for a small choir of OLs who volunteered to sing the alma mater at the end of the University Welcome. Other OLs were staffed to usher in families or prepare the next event…

5 p.m.

New Student BBQ! Some OLs directed the line for the catered food, served carnival desserts, manned the inflatable games or made conversation with the new students! 

7 p.m.

While the first-years attended residential meetings, the OLs met at DiSanto [Field] for a final run-through of the Boogie (our Sunday practice got rained out) and soon, we were enthusiastically high-fiving the first years as they filed into the bleachers for Tradition. It was a relief that there was no rain! The orientees enjoyed the Boogie, we took a great class photo, and enjoyed some activities on the field!

Editor’s note: Boogie is when the orientation leaders gather on DiSanto Field and perform a coordinated dance set to popular tunes. This dance routine is part of “Tradition,” the Monday evening event in which orientation leaders welcome the new class to CWRU with fun activities and the class picture spelling out C-W-R-U.


The week continues

Michelle Yun and Gillian Russo pose for a selfie in front of Wade Oval
Michelle Yun and fellow 2021 orientation leader Jillian Russo

Yun’s sample schedule marked just the first full day of Discover Week events; since then, she and the rest of the orientation leaders have worked every day this week to make sure new students feel comfortable and welcome.

Some days begin as early as 8 a.m. and can last as late as 11 p.m., when OLs may try to squeeze in showers or other work.

But Yun advised: “It’s best to unwind with something you enjoy and get a good night of sleep. Without that self-care time after expending so much energy for the new students, it is hard to give our all for the entire week.”

Beyond Discover Week

Some orientation leaders return to their roles the following year, but the responsibilities of the job officially end after Discover Week—though many stay in touch and grow their friendships as the school year begins.

“Oftentimes, we don’t see how our work as OLs impacts the new students beyond Discover Week, but it’s very rewarding to see orientees thrive at CWRU and succeed in different ways,” Yun said. “And of course, it is amazing if they follow your footsteps and become [OLs] themselves!”