One of the most formative experiences for almost every Temple student is freshmen orientation. It’s a time when incoming freshmen can test drive being on their own for a few days and get a more complete version of what to expect when they arrive on move-in day and begin their college careers.
Orientation is a rite of passage, which involves a lot of planning and preparation to make sure all of the elements come together to create a memorable experience for the incoming class.
For the 32 students that make up the Owl Team, ensuring freshmen will be prepared once they begin their time at Temple is not the only thing they have to look forward to.
“I knew I wanted to be an Owl Team Leader after my orientation, after they did ‘Fly In, Fly Out,’” said Ashley Lewis, a junior media studies and production major and one of four returning Owl Team Leaders.
Upon applying for a position with the Owl Team, Lewis entered a three-part application process.
The first part of the process is a basic application, two recommendation letters, a 1,000-word essay prompt and a creative piece that could be anything from a photo collage to a poem as long as it fits on a 8.5-by-11-inch piece of paper.
This year was one of the most competitive with more than 100 applicants.
After applications are received, a select number of applicants move on to group interviews where their creativity and ability to stand out is tested again through challenges, such as creating a mock Temple commercial and making a poster of the typical Temple student.
Kyle Lawrence, the program coordinator for the Office of Orientation, stressed creativity as one of the most important qualities an Owl Team Leader should possess.
“I think when you’re working with a group of 20 incoming students it’s really important to think on your feet and be flexible,” Lawrence said. “You have a group of around 20 different students from all walks of life, from all different areas of the country.”
After the pool of applicants is narrowed down even farther, individual interviews are the last step in bringing the Owl Team down to a final group of 32.
Questions in the final interview are scenario-based, and ranged from how they would answer students’ questions about drinking or partying to handling conflicts or if they thought the job would be too difficult.
“I thought [when I left the interview] it was really hard and I did horrible, but I guess I didn’t since I got the job,” sophomore education major Sirjana Wlotko said.
Applicants are usually told whether they were selected for the Owl Team before spring break and then meet in early April. During their spring meeting the Owl Team Leaders get promotional group photos that will be put on postcards and sent out to incoming freshmen.
Before orientation sessions begin, the Owl Team goes through multi-day training sessions where they listen to presentations from various Main Campus resources and services.
“The Owl Team throughout my years here say they love training for the simple fact they wind up learning about the university themselves,” Lawrence said.
Part of training includes going on a two-day retreat where they camp and do a series of bonding exercises.
A campfire during the retreat where the Owl Team Leaders answer questions and share personal stories is where a lot of the stronger bonds between the Owl Team are made.
Questions during the campfire vary from, “What was your favorite toy as a child?” to deeper topics like, “What was the scariest moment of your life?”
“I think that’s the question that people got really emotional and really opened up and told stories they hadn’t really told people in their life,” Lewis said.
“Afterwards there’s always big group hugs and everyone’s like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m so glad you shared that story and if you need anything please let me know,’” Lawrence said. “So I always feel really positive about that.”
Once training was complete and the Owl Team had time to bond, the orientation sessions began. This summer all orientations lasted two days and Owl Team Leaders typically had two orientation sessions a week.
“It was definitely easier this summer,” said Chynna Mela, a senior secondary English education major and returning Owl Team Leader. “I felt like a mom last summer — I still worry about them but last summer especially. Someone [would be] like five minutes late and I would freak out [thinking] that they were lost somewhere or they went home or they were hurt. I know it sounds silly. You know they’re 18, but when they come in they look like such babies and they have no idea what they’re doing.”
Not all Owl Team Leaders were able to lead students within their own major or school. Wlotko, an education major, had students in the College of Health Professions and Social Work.
“I didn’t know much about their major so I focused more on them getting to know each other,” Wlotko said.
Some of the more common questions asked by freshmen were related to drinking and partying around Main Campus.
“We were told to try and get out of that situation and try not to have to talk about that,” Wlotko said.
Mela said she mostly talks to the new students about different things to do on Main Campus, outside of the party scene.
“I’ll say, ‘This is college and everyone’s doing something different on the weekends, here are some of the things that Temple offers like Free Food Fun Friday, and there’s the Pearl,’” Mela said. “You really want to express to them the different things they can do.”
Lawrence makes sure the Owl Team presents the whole story about the social scene at Temple.
“I think sometimes [freshmen] come in with preconceived notions of what life in college is going to be like,” Lawrence said. “So I want to make sure they hear the whole story, and that not all students go out and drink on weekends and not all students participate in high-risk behavior.”
Through managing new students, long hours and monotonous schedules, the 32 members of the Owl Team still create — if not friendships — mutual respect.
“We all lived together, we all worked together,” Wlotko said. “I think at the end we all really respected and cared about each other. My favorite part of Owl Team was the people that I worked with.”
Mela said it surprised her how Owl Team Leaders became so close in just one summer.
“We have this way of just coming together and forming the Owl Team family. As corny as that sounds we really are,” she said.
In his three years as the program coordinator, Lawrence has seen this bond with past groups.
“Obviously it’s a group of 32 individuals so I’m not expecting them all to become friends, but I do want them to have that mutual respect for each other and I think that they do,” Lawrence said. “A lot of the time I will catch up with an old Owl Team Leader and they’ll be telling me, ‘Oh I just had lunch or dinner or I’m living with one of the other Owl Team Leaders from my year.”
Luis Fernando Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TheLuisFernando.