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Pre-orientation leaders gather equipment at the Glen House.
Pre-orientation leaders gather equipment at the Glen House.

For the past 30 years, Hamilton’s Adirondack Adventure (AA), part of the optional first year pre-orientation program, has helped students grow as individuals and find their place at the College. For those not too keen on “roughing it” through the Adirondacks or across the Finger Lakes, then Outreach Adventure (OA), the community service-oriented program, has been a better option since its introduction. The newest pre-orientation program, eXploration Adventure (XA), offers students the opportunity to explore a topic about which they are passionate.

Each year before the official first-year orientation program begins, hundreds of incoming students participate in Hamilton’s pre-orientation programs. The excursions last eight days, taking place between August 15 and 22 this year, across the Upstate region. Since their inception, the popularity of the trips has steadily increased, requiring additional student leaders and trip options. This year, 292 students - almost 60 percent of the incoming class - are registered for one of the 37 Adventure trips.

Of these 37 adventures, four comprise the inaugural set of XA trips. As the official website describes, “the XA trips were created to provide students with similar interests an opportunity to explore a subject area or theme with some members of the College faculty.” Like OA and AA, each XA trip will have six to eight rising first-year students and will be led by two upperclassmen, but will also include a professor who will direct the academic component of the trip.

The students leading these trips are selected through an intensive application process that began in January. “The XA leaders were selected for their strong potential to help develop this new branch of Pre-Orientation programs,” Emily Pittman ’15, the OA and XA coordinator, explained. After they are selected, leaders complete several training sessions, the last of which is trip-specific and will take place a week before the students arrive.

Although most leaders are current students, some alumni also return to guide the trips. More than connecting with upperclassmen or former students though, students in the XA program will be able to build relationships with members of the college faculty or administration before the school year begins. XA trips offer an academic component in addition to the personal growth that has come to categorize the College’s nationally acclaimed pre-orientation programs.

One of the upcoming trips, “Food, Mind, Body: A Local Wellness Experience,” invites students “to explore mindfulness, yoga, and reflective writing as we investigate local food organizations in the Mohawk Valley,” as described by Professor of English and Creative Writing Naomi Guttman. Another trip, “Arts and Culture in Utica,” is led by students but includes “dinners with Hamilton arts faculty” as well as “visits to the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Sculpture Space, The Other Side and other venues [in order to] experience art, film, sculpture, music and other creative opportunities.”

“New York Frontier Warfare,” led by the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History Maurice Isserman, will take participants to historic sites. In his description of the Adventure, Isserman said “We will walk the battlegrounds and stand on the battlements of those wars [the French and Indian war and the American Revolution], as we immerse ourselves in the dark and bloody days of 18th century frontier warfare while visiting Fort Stanwix, Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga National Historical Park, and other sites.”

For hands-on learners, students might consider “The Art and Science of Bees and Beekeeping,” led by Professor of Biology Herm Lehman and Vice President, Dean of Students and apiarist Nancy Thompson. As its description states, this trip offers “an introduction to the science of bees and the art of beekeeping,” by observing “the establishment of bee castes, behavior, and health, while also exploring … Colony Collapse Disorder.” Students will have the opportunity to work with beekeepers in order to remove, extract, and bottle honey, as well as “learning the essentials of establishing and caring for a hive.”

Director of Community Outreach Amy James, who is also the head of OA and XA, is thrilled with the addition of this program. Due to the intense popularity of Hamilton’s pre-orientation programs, they will become mandatory for all incoming first-year students beginning in the fall 2015. This change is part of the First Year Experience (FYE) program, which is sponsored by the Office of Residential Life and the Dean of Students. FYE aims to help “transition the first-year student from high school to college and enhance their sense of belonging as soon as they arrive.” Full financial aid for OA, AA and XA is available.

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