By Julia Shaw, Tessa Manahan, Jessy Bouchard, and Cade Wright
We have found that most Cal Poly students, if not all, have that story; the story of the Week of Welcome (WOW), that immediately connects us to our campus. It is natural on our campus to hear stories such as "my roommate's friend's cousin was in your WOW Group," or something of a similar regard. This is a small strand in an even larger web that stems from experiences during WOW. It contributes to the defining features of this unique Orientation experience: the community that students have the opportunity to build. By participating as a WOWie, new students have already joined the WOW community, but the connections don't have to end after "the Week". These connections have the potential to be lasting, whether they be throughout our years at Cal Poly, or beyond.
Lasting Connections – Tessa Manahan, Group Leader 2016, Event Staff 2017
WOW impacts students in many different aspects of their college experience. It indirectly helps increase the confidence of incoming students, as they are put in social situations with new faces and new conversations with others. Throughout leading a group of WOWies, I directly saw these new students succeed in the college environment. WOW gave them instant connections with people in their residence halls, people they chose to live with in the future. I watched my WOWies start to make these connections in our conversations around topics on mental health and alcohol awareness. I listened as my WOWies opened up with each other and with me, and because of this, felt more comfortable making strong connections that lasted. WOW gives students the opportunity to be honest and vulnerable with each other and this can translate to a higher quality of relationships.
WOW continues to foster those connections by offering the unique experience of Spring Training. People from all years, majors, and backgrounds come together for the ten-week long preparation to be a WOW Leader. Spring Training combines that sense of new experiences and quirky traditions, with the familiarity of a program that ties students to the school from their first day. Two of my WOWies chose to embark on this journey together and their personal and professional growth was immeasurable. Watching them lead a WOW group of their own that Fall and expand their web of connections to the next wave of incoming students, assured me that the relationships created during WOW can last a lifetime.
The WOW community is real, and it extends past Spring Training and The Week. Having that common bond with others on campus is unique and has only gotten stronger the more deeply involved I have become. Creating that unique experience for my WOWies by putting in my full commitment and excitement toward the program is part of what has made WOW a lasting memory in my college experience. WOW created a network of connections for me; a network that I have come to call my family.
Inclusivity – Jessy Bouchard, Group Leader 2017
One of the most valuable aspects of the WOW community is how it encourages respect from people of all different backgrounds. The WOW community prides itself on being a safe space where students can open up and receive support in all aspects of their lives. A big part of the program focuses on the fact that anyone can be a WOW Leader; there are no limits or prerequisites needed, just the motivation to strive to be part of it. I enjoyed how the WOW community was accepting of everyone and made it a point to hear every voice, including mine, as well as be there for one another. My WOWies were able to feel comfortable to open up to me about presentation topics and about their personal experiences throughout their first year of college. I found that the program does its best to make Spring Training welcoming for everyone, including those who aren’t sure if they want to stay, who come by themselves, who come with a Co, and who come with the intent of being Event Staff. Through this, I was able to feel as though I had multiple options to become involved in a specific part of the program that best fit my personality and leadership style. Each role is unique and different; however, finding my place in WOW allowed me to bring my individualized qualities and strengths to the program. When I chose to become a WOW Leader and lead a group of my own, I was able to contribute to the magic of WOW by helping new students feel welcomed and comfortable on campus.
Impact on students & Cal Poly – Cade Wright, Group Leader 2017
When I look back on my time as a WOW Leader, I best remember the moments I spent with my group. Those are some of the moments that have defined my college experience so far. Looking beyond myself to my WOWies, I think it is those moments that they will remember as well. With every new student going through WOW, each student has the chance to take away memories and experiences. It is those moments, all taking place within the same timeframe and surrounding the same activities, that offer a common ground that connections between new students can grow from. These effects may not be immediately visible on campus; however, the new ideas and friendships that students often find during WOW impact students for their duration at Cal Poly. The things that unite and define us as Cal Poly students are presented to all new students during WOW, and the importance of that can not be overstated. Values imbued within The Mustang Way and the Mustang Community such as respect, character, pride, support, and family are firmly impressed on new students. As a WOW Leader, I had the opportunity to see first hand how this material affected my WOWies. Seeing the people they became more than six months after the Week, reminded me of the pivotal role each every WOW Leader can play in fostering an impact on the Cal Poly community, one new student at a time. As far as direct impacts, I could not have been more pleased with the opportunities being a WOW Leader gave me to have a positive impact on new students. I offered myself as a resource while guiding my WOWies through the intricacies of Cal Poly, giving advice where I could as I helped them through a major transition in their life. This direct impact, when multiplied by 900 WOW Leaders and 5,500 new students, results in a more confident and knowledgeable student body. These are some of the impacts that becoming a WOW Leader can have on Cal Poly and they are so critical because when every WOW Leader becomes a resource and every WOWie feels supported, that is when our school goes from great to one of a kind.
The WOW experience is one we don’t think we could find anywhere else. It is so special, unique, and impactful. Through WOW, we have found our family at Cal Poly, and in turn, a home here. However, even if you do not find your family, WOW offers much more than personal connections; it offers resources, personal and professional growth, leadership opportunities, and a support system. It is a place of authenticity that brings joy as well as Cal Poly pride to those involved. By joining the WOW community, we have been able to contribute to the greater good of our campus and our Mustang Family. Sometimes it takes a leap of faith, like applying to be a WOW Leader, to find your home here at Cal Poly. If not for yourself, you can help others find their home, and find their why.