Thursday, June 16, 2011

Alternative Orientation offers new students a different view of the University of Illinois

“I really think we need to keep tying things back to U of I. When I was an incoming freshman I wanted to know as much as I could about what to expect.” - Kenny Long, President, Engineers without Borders UIUC and University YMCA Board of Governors representative

In 1926, the University YMCA established “Freshman Camp,” to help new students to get oriented and adjusted to University life. The program focused on personal character development and “provided information and tips designed to help freshman to succeed in their academic and social lives, along with a chance to speak and interact with senior students and faculty members.” While the program was discontinued briefly in the late 50s, it was reestablished in 1959 and renamed twice in 1964 as “Freshman Conference” and in 1971 as “New Student Conference.” These conferences were a space for sharing of participants’ hopes, fears, and expectations of college life as well as a forum for addressing serious matters related to higher education. The last conference was held in 1973.

This fall, the University YMCA Student Board hopes to revive the spirit of Freshman Camp with a new program, Alternative Orientation. The day and a half retreat will still serve as a forum for learning more about the collegiate experience, but with a focus on leadership development and community engagement. Students will learn about the Social Change Model of Leadership, participate in a community service project, explore their personal strengths as a leader, explore campus from through the eyes of a campus leader in a very unique photo scavenger hunt and connect with campus leaders. All of these activities share a common purpose, helping new students explore their own passions and desires to create sustainable change while developing skills to make those dreams a reality.

Several University YMCA students who are in Champaign-Urbana for the summer have been meeting regularly with YMCA staff to discuss programming ideas, recruit participants, and develop campus partners. This July 29-30, the students will run a pilot of the program aimed at incoming students from Champaign County. In September, they plan to hold a similar program for students who have begun to get involved in service, environmentalism, or activism, but want to develop leadership skills to facilitate their development within an organization.

Want to learn more? Visit the Alternative Orientation website: or contact Kasey at or 217.337.1514

Ready to sign-up? Apply online here.