As the class of 2026 moved into their dorms on Aug. 31, they were greeted by the Orientation Welcoming Committee — 77 Bruno leaders and six first-year fellows. This year’s orientation marked the beginning of the first fully in-person, mask-optional orientation since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this year’s orientation came with its own obstacles. “Unfortunately, due to the weather conditions, small group meeting number four was remote and the drive-in movie and convocation were postponed,” said Melissa Aldana ’24, a first-year fellow on the OWC. Still, there were plenty of activities for students to participate in.
“I think there were a bit too many activities,” Nimrit Ahuja ’26 wrote in an email to The Herald. “It wasn’t too bad when you understood what was required versus optional, (but) I don’t think there needs to be more activities.”
Ahuja said that her favorite activities were the pep rally and volleyball game. “It was really nice to feel the whole student body rally for our team, and there wasn’t the pressure to have the same conversation asking someone their origin state, major and dorm location,” she wrote.
For Ahuja, the most helpful part of orientation was not one of the OWC activities, but rather her peer advising session with her Meiklejohn. “My Meiklejohn was very helpful and gave us her contact information and would send videos of how to do something in Courses@Brown if I texted with a question,” she wrote.
Ahuja also appreciated the advice offered by the Bruno leaders. “I really appreciated when our Bruno leaders … were transparent and gave us their own advice or stories,” she wrote.
“In-person orientation stands in stark contrast to online orientation,” Bruno Leader Natalie Chernysh ’24 wrote in an email to The Herald. Chernysh’s first-year class arrived in January 2021 when COVID-19 restrictions kept orientation largely virtual.
“This is not to say that the Orientation Welcoming Committee did not do their absolute best in 2021,” Chernysh wrote. She added that Zoom meetings caused fatigue and ultimately could not compare to the excitement of an ice cream social with 1,500 new classmates, sipping mocktails at the orientation dance and the “loads of free swag” handed out at such events.
“Being a Bruno leader has been a unique opportunity that allowed me to experience the orientation my class of 2024 never had,” Chernysh wrote. “I am living vicariously through the first-years.”
While Chernysh was able to execute and experience several orientation events alongside the class of 2026, the events were largely organized by the OWC’s first-year fellows, who served as oversight for the Bruno leaders.
Aldana oversaw the Bruno leaders assigned to orientation groups in Keeney and Wayland. She worked closely with her team of 33 leaders, each of whom was responsible for 17 to 26 students.
Like Chernysh, Aldana also had her orientation primarily online, and was excited about the fully in-person events.
Aldana got involved with OWC as a Bruno leader last summer. After finding the experience incredibly rewarding, she applied to be a first-year fellow this year and was accepted. After completing her training, she helped run recruitment for new Bruno leaders.
“Once the staff was hired, we went into planning mode,” Aldana said. “A lot of orientation events are standard. We know we are going to have an ice cream social and orientation dance but we aren’t sure how.”
While OWC remained cognizant of the risk of COVID-19, the mask-optional orientation passed with no significant outbreaks, Aldana said. “There were two Bruno leaders who had COVID who had to isolate. That’s it.”
One aspect of COVID-19 protocols from Aldana’s and Chernysh’s freshman orientation remains: the small group structure. “Before COVID, there were no small groups,” Aldana said. “This has been a very instrumental change in how events are run.”
If large events such as the dance and the ice cream social are intimidating to some students, small groups allow for “intimate discussions” and room to “foster closer relationships,” Aldana said.
“Working orientation as a Bruno leader is one of the most rewarding and gratifying jobs you can have on campus,” Aldana said.“I can’t recommend it enough.”