Students at the A Christmas Story House

A glimpse of Cleveland: First-year students explore their new home before orientation

Editor’s Note: To get an up-close perspective of some of the first-year students’ introduction to their new home, the editor of The Daily, Katie Laux, joined students on the Creates Adventure, watching them experience different parts of Cleveland for the first time and witnessing the early start of what may become lasting friendships.

This week, 1,275 first-year students are taking part in New Student Orientation, packed with ice-breaker exercises and back-to-back information sessions. But a week ago, some students in the Class of 2020 arrived on campus early to get to know each other—and their new home.

The optional three-day “Adventures” program brings together small groups of students and introduces them to upperclassmen, faculty and staff, while they partake in activities centered around one of 10 themes:

  • Activism: Become informed change agents;
  • Creates: See what’s made in Cleveland and check out the arts and culture scene;
  • Eats: Try out well-known area eateries;
  • Explores: Visit local landmarks;
  • Leads: Develop leadership skills;
  • Pride: Learn about diversity and LGBT inclusion at CWRU and in Cleveland;
  • Serves: Make a difference through service-learning opportunities;
  • Thrills: Visit local amusement parks and attractions;
  • Treks: Take a trip to OhioPyle State Park; and
  • Ventures: Get a glimpse of Cleveland’s business scene.

“A lot of orientation is integrating our students into the university and teaching them our values,” said Emily Pestello, an orientation leader and senior studying cognitive science and psychology. “Allowing them to opt-in to an adventure to start out their experience with [the perspective of], ‘This is Cleveland; this is where I’m going to school; this is where I’m going to live,’ and kind of integrating them into that before we integrate them into the university is a really interesting approach.”

Pestello and sophomore Ben Szafarz, an engineering and physics major, partnered to lead the Creates program, while Chamois Williams, assistant director of alumni outreach and affinity programs, provided a staff presence.

Starting Their Adventures

Arriving on campus three days before their classmates, the Adventures participants began bonding their first night at a screening of Big Hero Six in Leutner Pavilion.

The next morning, they fueled up for the day at Leutner Commons while trying to recall each other’s names, discussing their new living arrangements and asking their orientation leaders questions about campus.

“It’s really fun to watch them start to form friendships and get to know each other a little better,” said Pestello. “It’s cool to see that already blossoming in such a social and easygoing setting.”

After breakfast, the 10 groups parted ways, and the Creates crew embarked on our trip aboard Lolly the Trolley, which regularly provides guided tours of the city. Our guide, Jim, wound through tight city streets and a brief stretch of highway—reassuring us the trolley is designed to withstand speeds up to 75 miles per hour—and explained every site we passed.

Taking us down Euclid Avenue in Uptown, around the area museums, through the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, by Lake Erie and over to the near west side, our guide showed us some of Cleveland’s most notable spots, packing the trip with historical information along the way.

What’s Created in Cleveland?

But the scenic tour was just the start of our day. Next, we headed over to the A Christmas Story House, the restored home featured in the 1980s holiday classic A Christmas Story. While many of the students had never seen the movie—a few were a bit apprehensive and confused by the iconic leg lamp—they took time to look around the house and the museum and gift shop across the street.

For lunch, we headed to Ohio City, where we parted ways with our tour guide and the trolley to grab a bite to eat at the 104-year-old West Side Market, Cleveland’s oldest publicly owned market. Students stocked up on fresh bread and tested out pizza bagels and other treats. But we couldn’t leave Ohio City without one last stop: the headquarters of local favorite Mitchell’s Ice Cream.

Some students got their first taste of what will likely become a favorite (there’s another location in Uptown)—and we all headed upstairs to the viewing platform to watch the ice cream being made.

Next, the students got to see works created—and do a little creating of their own—on a see-and-do tour at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Uptown, but not before we took the Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s Rapid train for the first time, learning about the access students get to the public transportation system with their IDs.

Students were even further immersed in the arts on their second day of the program, which included a backstage tour of Playhouse Square and a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, among other activities in a jam-packed day.

“I wanted to do the Creates [Adventure] because I’m primarily interested in sciences and math, but I also really, really love art,” Rebecca Kizner, a first-year student who plans to study engineering, said.

Daniel Rubin, a first-year student planning to study computer science, explained that he wanted to participate in the program because, while he went to a tech-heavy high school, he’s always been interested in the arts—and he sees Case Western Reserve as a place where he can explore multiple opportunities.

“At one of the admitted student events a few weeks back, one of the people there had graduated from CWRU with a triple major in psychology, political science and biomed,” he said. “Those kinds of combinations—where it’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that and they’re completely different fields—is something I didn’t see anywhere else.”

Throughout our Adventure, students navigated through Cleveland—and through the brand-new, exciting and somewhat overwhelming experience of being a new student in a new city. And, hopefully, it was an introduction to their new home and new classmates that they won’t soon forget.