Director of Orientation and First-Year Programs Tessa Chefalo.

Five hundred plus new students adventuring on 61 overnight trips, overseen by 122 trained student leaders. How’s that for a logistical challenge?

Since 2015, Hamilton has required incoming first-year students to take part in an overnight excursion as part of orientation. It’s one of a few colleges that mandate orientation trips. Students pick from dozens of choices, heavy on outdoor camping, offered through three programs: Adirondack Adventure, which is just what it sounds like; Exploration Adventure, in which students take on a topic while immersed in a local community; and Outreach Adventure, which consists of community service. Students stay off campus for four nights, maybe bivouacked in a community center, state park, or alongside a mountain lake.

Tessa Chefalo, director of orientation and first-year programs, oversees the five-day rite of passage and runs Exploration Adventure. Bringing the enterprise together is a bit of an adventure itself, but it’s proved to be worth the work. The idea is to give new students a chance to unplug and bond in a relaxed setting before the semester kicks in.

Here’s Chefalo’s front-line perspective:

“We look for [student] trip leaders who are enthusiastic about supporting new students in their transition to college. A lot of our leaders had a really good trip experience themselves, and they want to give back. We look for people who are good collaborators: Are they comfortable speaking up when they feel like something needs to be said? But can they also make space for other people’s voices?”

“It’s about giving new students the opportunity to make connections early and in a small-group setting that is student-led, so they’ve got peers who can tell them what the campus culture is really like.”

“We discourage students from bringing cell phones — it’s against our policy, actually. We want them to be present with the people they’re with and the experience, right? Fill the time with conversations or just look at their surroundings and take them in. It’s a time to reflect and think about how they want to spend their time while they’re on campus.”

“It’s so important [for new students] to have somebody to sit with at Commons or talk to that first week on campus when they’re surrounded by 500 other new students and then after the other 1,300 students come back. The feedback I get proves these trips make a big difference for students at the start of their college experience.”

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