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August 27, 2010

PLU goes On the Road

BY Kari Plog ’11

The First-Year Experience is a piece of Pacific Lutheran University that administrators like Allison Stephens boast about.

First-year students go biking around Point Defiance Park as part of On The Road.

First-year students go biking around Point Defiance Park as part of On The Road.

Stephens, who is the new student orientation coordinator, said On the Road (OTR) trips have always been an important part of introducing students to PLU.

“Three years down the road people will remember who went with them on their On the Road,” she said.

OTR trips are a part of new student orientation where students register for an off-campus visit somewhere in the Puget Sound region with a group of other new students and orientation guides. The trips are tailored to different areas of interest and are divided into four categories: service, art and culture, outdoor recreation and just-for-fun.

Melanie Deane, student coordinator for OTR, said that choosing places to go is based on what has been popular with students in the past.

“I think (OTR trips) get people into the community,” Deane said. “Students from out of state can come to PLU and see what’s available outside of campus.”

The goal of each OTR trip has always served to connect students with upperclassmen and other new students. This year, however, another additional goal is to connect students with faculty members from different departments.

Deane said that each trip has at least one faculty member attending, which will intermingle various departments and interests. Stephens agreed with the sentiment and said that OTR trips add to the community aspect that orientation coordinators strive to build.

“During orientation we try to get students to interact with as many people as they can,” Stephens said. “It is really the people aspect in combination with learning about the surrounding area to see a broader setting beyond this campus.”

Each year many of the OTR trips carry over from previous orientations, but some new programs and events are introduced. Deane said she is very excited about the Left Foot Organics trip, which was added to the service category this year.

“Left Foot Organics is a farm in Tenino that employs people with special needs to harvest organic food,” she said. “This year we have a group of students volunteering to help out and I am very excited to participate in this trip.”

Deane said that it is trips like this one that embody the PLU mission, which helps introduce students to what the values are at PLU. From engaging the world to being stewards of their communities.

“These trips are designed to represent what PLU students enjoy doing,” she said.

Deane said the biggest challenge is figuring out the logistics of travel for such a high volume of participants. She said that coordinators try to plan for as much public transportation to and from events as possible. Hundreds of students sign up for OTR every year.

“College students don’t always have cars,” she said. “It is sustainable and efficient (to use public transportation). There are a lot of great benefits.”

Many departments and organizations around campus were involved in planning for OTR. Faculty members were given the opportunity to provide input into possible trips that they would find interesting. Deane said that the chocolate factory tour scheduled this year was a new idea presented by a geo science professor. Other department contributions included the Volunteer Center, Campus Ministry and faculty members from all over campus.

“It’s nice to have faculty support,” Deane said. “To have that much involvement is great for students to meet people from so many different departments.”