Wilderness Orientation Brings Together Incoming Students
By Bri Phillips
Celeste Gottschalk wanted to create an event for incoming students to have a unique orientation experience. After seeing outdoor orientation programs at other universities, she wanted to bring a similar opportunity to Cal State San Marcos.
Gottschalk made her idea come to life, and it ended up a success.
About 30 new students participated in the overnight team-building experience on July 7 on the Mangrum Track & Field for the inaugural wilderness orientation. The evening was filled with bonding exercises, games, yoga, dinner and crafts. The next day included kayaking and ocean wildlife viewing in La Jolla.
“These programs provide incoming students with a unique orientation experience,” said Gottschalk, an outdoor event coordinator in Campus Recreation. “After all, how many of us can say we slept on the Mangrum Field looking at the stars? This trip, I hope, will have a lasting impact on these students. I witnessed new friendships being made, and quieter students coming out of their shells and reconnecting with face-to-face social skills. After two years of being online and distant, this was an amazing opportunity to feel connected to the campus and understand what it means to be a Cougar.”
Gottschalk first had the idea for a wilderness orientation in 2019. While the pandemic quickly postponed the planning, she was motivated to kickstart the planning in 2021 after she saw the effects the pandemic had on students.
Gottschalk worked with Christiana Moen, the director of new student and family programs, and Yessenia Zamora, coordinator of new student programs, to get the program up and running. Gottschalk, Moen and Zamora recruited volunteers from the Orientation Team to create a welcoming experience for students like Zuleyka Clemente and Regina Medina.
“I really like the outdoors,” said Clemente, a biological sciences major. “Since I'm not living on campus, I figured that an overnight experience would be really cool. I'm a social person, but if you throw me into a place where I don't know anyone, I get a little nervous. But once I met Regina, it was so fun. The experience was so productive because we camped together and went kayaking, which brought us all together super fast, super quickly.”
For Clemente and Medina, it was both their first time kayaking and visiting La Jolla beach. The two were paired up for kayaking and bonded over trying to navigate and turn the kayak.
Medina was hesitant at first when she heard from faculty coordinator and family friend Sonia Perez that the orientation had wilderness in its name because she had never been camping. But Medina kept an open mind and enjoyed participating in all the activities.
“Overall, you'll have other people that are just as confused or hesitant as you,” said Medina, an psychological sciences student. “I just tried to go with the flow and not resist any activity. The orientation went beyond my expectations.”
Clemente and Medina now keep in touch regularly and are looking forward to meeting up again once the fall semester starts.
“I think this pilot program was successful,” Gottschalk said. “The students were noticeably engaged and meeting new peers. We look forward to learning from this experience and plan to build upon it to make it better each summer.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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