The Student Staff Tight Rope Routine
I think one of the greatest challenges for orientation directors is hiring student staff members hereby referred to as orientation leaders (O.L.s) who can successfully walk the tight rope between peer mentor and staff member. On one hand we are asking these students to gain the trust of incoming students and as such we expect them to be approachable, friendly and for lack of a better word, cool. We want our O.L.s to be liked and respected by incoming students because they are the ones who ultimately have a great deal of influence over whether or not a new student feels connected to the university. Yes, staff can answer their questions about what classes to register for, or where they can go to find out about financial aid, or when to pay their student fees, but O.L.s are the ones who impart on them what it is like to actually be a student. At the same time that they are gaining trust among incoming students, we are asking them to act professionally and represent the university in a positive, professional manner. In some cases this requires that O.L.s act as authority figures among incoming students and do/say things that are in contradiction to their role as new friend and confidant. I believe that the most successful, trusted O.L.s are the one that become comfortable dealing with these moments of dissonance and contradiction.
So how does one go about finding students who will be able to deal with the task ahead? I think that students who have successfully dealt with some type of personal or professional conflict in the past are more likely to have the tools necessary to handle the stresses associated with being an O.L. Students who have gone through the process of developing a new identity while in college, struggled with finding an appropriate major or career, and/or faced the challenges of being a student leader for another campus group are likely to handle their new role as O.L. with greater success than those who have not been in such positions. It is important to ask potential O.L.s questions about how they have handled conflict (within themselves or with others) in the past, how they deal with contradictions and to ask them scenario based questions that gauge if they can walk the O.L. tight rope. It is also important to recognize that students who have been in college for at least a few years are more likely to have developed the skills and critical thinking necessary to be a successful university representative. While it is important to have students at various stages of their education on staff, upperclassman should be sought after not only for their more thorough knowledge of the university, but also for their developmental skills.
This entry leaves me questioning how orientation directors go about recruiting and hiring their student staffs. I’d like to know what kinds of questions students are asked. Whether or not scenario questions are used and/or helpful. I’m aware that it is important to not only hire students who will do a good job, but students who will grow from the experience. The question is how to balance student staff growth with a solid orientation team. In the end it all comes back to challenge and support. How much support can we give O.L.s that are extremely challenged by their new positions and how long can we support them before it begins to interfere with the quality of the orientation program?