Orientation Leader, Jillian Taylor, reflects on adapting to a virtual orientation format

Orientation Leader, Jillian Taylor, reflects on her experience adapting Orientation and Stampede to a virtual format because of the pandemic. Through teamwork and quick thinking, the Orientation Leaders were able to make the virtual experience a memorable one for the newest class of Mustangs.

My experience as an SMU orientation leader in the summer of 2020 was a blur of Zoom calls, crisis management, and true teamwork.

Allow me to begin by explaining exactly what an Orientation Leader (OL) does. It goes far beyond funny skits and knowing facts about SMU; we underwent four months of leadership training and team bonding before we even began our OL jobs. During this training period, we practiced public speaking, learned about our own personalities, listened to lessons about leadership, wrote speeches, and more. Then, we officially became OLs. For June and July, we spent hours on Zoom learning about dozens of departments at the university, facilitating small groups discussion, and planning Stampede events. We moved on campus in August and worked tirelessly to plan Stampede. Then, 11 hours before Stampede was supposed to begin, the whole thing got switched to online. We quickly adapted and executed a fully-online version of our original plan.

It was a rollercoaster experience that taught me some vital lessons.

First, I learned how to respond to crisis situations. Our team was dealt difficult cards: facilitating orientation over Zoom, our boss quitting three weeks before Stampede, and Stampede moving online 11 hours before it started.  Getting too overwhelmed to work isn’t an option when thousands of new students and parents are relying on you. The only option was to overcome, and we did just that. It was a powerful thing to experience.

This point leads me to the next thing I learned: the value of a close-knit team. The OL team spent four months learning about ourselves and each other, and by the end of it, we knew one other really well. This bond caused us to generally respond to stressful situations as a unit. I vividly remember the meeting where we learned Stampede would be online. There was about one minute of shocked silence, then we immediately started brainstorming ways to respond. We worked like our tail was on fire for 11 hours and created a dynamic, entertaining live stream to replace the in-person kickoff events we had planned. I’ll be honest with you; I was surprised by how good that live stream was. It was awesome.

Finally, I learned about my strength in facilitating connections. Getting people who’ve never met to talk openly over Zoom is difficult. There are so many social cues that are lost when interactions are online, so I had to be constantly attentive to the energy my groups were putting off. Sometimes, they really wanted to ask questions and learn about SMU. Other times, they just wanted to make friends. As the facilitator, I had to gauge what the group was interested in and quickly adapt to meet their needs. It was absolutely a challenge, but it helped me pinpoint a unique strength that I possess.

I’m so thankful I was able to learn all of these things as a student because it equips me for life beyond college. For any college students reading this: I would undoubtedly recommend finding ways to practice servant leadership before you graduate!

Jillian Taylor ’23 is a Journalism major with a Computer Science minor. She is from Waxahachie, TX and her Residential Commons affiliation is Momac Commons.

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