There’s a certain “wow factor” to Cambria’s Camp Ocean Pines, and Cal Poly has long been aware of it.
This past weekend wasn’t too soon for the university to start preparing for its annual fall Week of Welcome (or WoW), an orientation event for more than 5,000 freshmen and transfer students. As it has been for nearly six decades, Camp Ocean Pines was the site of a weekend training session to prepare some 70 students.
Their task will be to, in turn, train 700 to 800 underclassmen who will serve as orientation leaders in the fall. At last year’s Week of Welcome, new students were placed in groups of 10 to 20, each led by two Cal Poly orientation leaders.
“Back in 1957, it was not actually for new students,” said Jason Mockford, a WoW student leader from 2000 to 2005 who researched the program’s history and now serves as assistant director of leadership and service for the university’s dean of students.
“Returning students who were part of the leadership went on a retreat to Camp Ocean Pines right before school started. I think the very next year, (organizers) realized that this was such a cool experience for students they ended up expanding it and focusing on new students.”
In the program’s early years, new students spent part of their orientation week taking tours of the campus, learning about the university’s resources and getting to know the city of San Luis Obispo via tour bus. They also attended a two-day “Welcome Roundup Camp” at Camp Ocean Pines, which hosted panel discussions, games, church services, dances, a treasure hunt and an annual “Hootenanny.”
“The faculty and staff would come out and do workshops, team building exercises with them, and then the two groups would switch,” Mockford said. “It operated that way for many years.”
The orientation moved to campus in the mid-1970s, but WoW training continued to be held at Camp Ocean Pines, where participants can enjoy a variety of wildlife, from black-tailed deer to hawks. From the deck of the dining hall, they can gaze out on the ocean and see gulls, otters and even migrating whales.
Modern distractions, however, are extremely limited.
“When our new trainers are there, I think their first reaction is, ‘This place is amazing. I didn’t know this was here.’ ” Mockford said. “They get there and realize their cellphone doesn’t work: There’s no reception there.”
Christina Tutt, interim coordinator of the New Student & Transitions Program at Cal Poly, confirmed the sense of wonder, adding that the weekend creates strong bonds among the participants.
“As a first-time attendee and someone that is new to the orientation program, I can say it was nothing less than an honor to be invited to experience the magic that happens at Camp Ocean Pines,” she said. “The transformation that occurs with these students in just a weekend’s time, coming in as strangers and leaving as a family, was remarkable to witness.”
The retreat is an opportunity to learn more about the program and for participants to get to know one another while practicing the communication skills they’ll use during Week of Welcome.
Brandon Martin, also an interim coordinator with the program, has attended five training sessions at Camp Ocean Pines.
“Attending twice as an participant and the other three times as a facilitator/observer, I can say that this tradition sets the Orientation Team up for success over their next nine months working together,” he said. “From them participating in bonding and personal growth activities, you can see the team develop over the course of the three days to improve themselves and those around them.”