By the time cars started rolling into campus Wednesday to unload new students and all the gear they would need for their first year at Dickinson College, a number of their classmates were already settled in with three days of pre-orientation activities.
Nicknamed “Pre-O,” the pre-orientation programs are designed for students to arrive on campus early to meet other students and staff, learn about Dickinson’s resources and start to form friendships, said Anna Baldasarre, who coordinates the pre-orientation adventures through the office of Student Leadership and Campus Engagement.
There are two types of programs. WILD, or Wilderness Introduction to Life at Dickinson, takes students to the Appalachian Trail or Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Student clubs or academic departments run the other programs, which take place on campus.
“Each Pre-O adventure is a small group of students with a shared interest who can get to know each other in their first couple of days here, and they start to really understand what it means to be a Dickinsonian and the things that we value here,” she said.
Students pay a $300 fee for the program. The fee covers food, accommodations, activities, supplies and transportation to and from campus for activities.
Though pre-orientation programs have been around for awhile, the program in its current form has been held at Dickinson College since 2014.
Last year, Claire Simpson took part in a Pre-O program called “Carlisle, Cuisine and Climate.” This year, she’s part of a team of students who put together a program called “Law and Ordering Food” in which the students work on a mock trial case involving a charge of involuntary manslaughter while exploring local restaurants like the Carlisle Diner, Massey’s, Carlisle Thai and the Pizza Grille.
Though the students “blew away” the organizing team with their work on the mock trial case, the team also knew they had to have a bit of release while preparing their case, Simpson said.
“They’re going to want to do something fun, too. You don’t really want to come to college and do three days of stressed work,” she said.
To lead a Pre-O program, the organizers had to submit an application that included a plan, schedule and budget for the program. Even once it is approved, there is a chance a program won’t happen if incoming students don’t sign up for it.
First-year student Elizabeth Lieb plans to major in law policy and has a background in speech and debate in high school, so she was naturally drawn to the mock trial program which, on Tuesday afternoon, placed her at the prosecution table in Judge Edward Guido’s courtroom in the Cumberland County Courthouse. Guido and fellow judge Albert Masland coach Dickinson College’s mock trial team.
Lieb said that while working on the case they also used the campus, met people who are interested in the same area of study and adjusted to the college schedule before classes start.
At the defense table, Macy Hamlett had similar thoughts.
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“You almost have an advantage because you’re getting familiar with campus and you’re not overwhelmed with the first day,” she said.
Hamlett said the Pre-O program also gave her the chance to explore the town and see “where the good stuff is.”
First-year students aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program.
“Overall, it’s been really, really nice to get to know freshmen. I wouldn’t normally get to meet this many first-years, but I wanted to get to know the incoming class,” Simpson said.
A different set of students toured the old cemetery in Carlisle Monday morning with Cara Curtis and Matthew March from the Cumberland County Historical Society.
The students learned about the layout of the cemetery, including a tidbit that the wall was added to keep cattle out of the cemetery in light of the borough’s free grazing policy at the time. March also talked about some of the people buried in the cemetery. He offered a glimpse of how Cumberland County could have been radically different if Frederick Watts, who is buried there, had been able to follow through on the idea of locating the school that eventually became Penn State in the county.
Most of the visit to the cemetery focused on its most famous resident, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, and the myths — and truths — behind her legendary exploits at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, during the Revolutionary War. Legend says she was giving water to soldiers when her artilleryman husband was wounded and she took his place at the cannon.
From there, the group walked to the Old Courthouse where they learned about punishments in the early years of the county. Later, the group planned to watch the 2015 episode of the SyFy series, “Ghost Hunters,” that explored reported apparitions and unexplained sounds in the old prison. The North Codorus Paranormal Society also planned to visit and conduct a ghost hunt with the group.
Kara Smith, a junior at Dickinson, led the program dubbed “Haunted Pre-O” with sophomore Jody Ephron.
“We’re looking at the intersection between learning about the history of Carlisle and Dickinson and where we’re situated in the general campus community along with general campus lore, which may or may not include ghost stories,” Smith said.
Smith said the program helps acclimate student to the town as well as the campus, adding that a lot of students don’t stray far into town until they are fully comfortable with being on campus.
Overall, 12 adventures were offered to students with 10-15 students participating in each adventure.