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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

OL Program struggles with low retention; ex-OLs cite intense work conditions

Olivia Reid
Students sit outside the Campus Center over the summer. Photo by Olivia Reid / Photography Editor.

Of the thirty Orientation Leaders who took part in the New Students and Families Program during summer of 2023, just one returned to work the Winter 2024 session. Many non-returning OLs did move to become Program Assistants or joined other areas of student employment, but the position’s retention rate is still notably low; most years, less than five or six OLs return, lending to the inconsistent nature of the position. Every year sees a different group of OLs, and every orientation, each OL will oversee a completely new group of up to twenty or thirty students—any group can be completely hit or miss—but according to ex-OLs who left the program last semester, this doesn’t account for everyone who decided to leave the program. 

One of the biggest problems ex-OLs cite is long, hard hours. Alexei, who worked as an OL during the summer 2023 program, said, “We were expected to work from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., and only given a roughly two-hour break.” They continued, “For overnight orientations, we were expected to meet at 7:00 a.m. the next day, giving us roughly only a few hours of sleep that night.” Other ex-OLs echoed Alexei, with one even saying they were stressed to tears on multiple occasions by the long workdays. OLs aren’t paid hourly for these days, but are paid a flat stipend of $3,000 for their work, in addition to a compensation package that includes food and housing. 

Even this compensation package has its downsides. An ex-OL, who specifically asked their name not be included, said that OLs were only given food on days that they worked, even though they were living on campus the rest of the time. They were only given fifteen minutes to eat sometimes, and parking isn’t included in the package, so OLs struggled to go out and get food.  

Alexei also expressed discontent with Phil Begeal, the director of NSFP, and Cam Hoyt, the assistant director. Alexei said, “We faced consistent passive aggression and harassment from the director and assistant director of NSFP. If we had asked a question on any issue, we would have been ridiculed for not knowing an answer to the question.” This issue affected even the students attending orientation. “If a student had to speak with them, they would be interrogated by the directors for the reason they have to leave, followed by them talking down to the student.”

Another ex-OL, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “In my personal experience, they were very unsupportive; they specifically told us not to ask them questions.” They also said if Begeal or Hoyt were stressed, especially Begeal, that stress trickled down to all the OLs and PAs, and then to the students attending the orientation. There was one specific incident that stuck in their mind: “I was sick the last orientation, but I wasn’t like, deathly ill, so I asked Cam if I could participate in the debrief and maybe sit far away, because it was the last time I’d get to see the other OLs.” Not only did Hoyt decline, but he sent them a video back, obviously talking down to them. In the video, he says, “So, you’re sick. So, you didn’t come to work. So, you can’t come to the debrief. Thanks for the McDonald’s!” As the video ends, he blows a sarcastic kiss to the camera and laughs, while someone else in the room says, “oh, come on.”

Orientation Leaders must be present for the entire program and are discouraged from missing work. One ex-OL said, “To their credit, Phil and Cam are very understanding of true emergencies.” Regardless, living and working with the exact same group of people for months is a recipe for drama. Last summer, OLs reported serious issues with another OL, but felt that their concerns weren’t taken seriously. Alexei summarized, “The expectations of us in this position created extreme stress in the OLs, as well as myself, to the point it negatively impacted my health.” 

Every ex-OL expressed gratitude toward their fellow OLs, and said that the friends they made during their time in the program are still among their best. Alexei said, “During my work here I made incredible friendships and connections with students and other OLs that I would not have gotten if I wasn’t in this position.” They added, “This truly was the highlight of my experience, and if I hadn’t been subjected to these work conditions, I would have returned as an OL.” Additionally, OL positions aren’t covered under federal work-study, making it much easier for international students to apply—if you can stay the whole summer, it’s an accessible position.

Begeal said the program is aware of some of the issues with the program and is working alongside Hoyt to improve the experience for OLs and students alike. He said, “Our goal with orientation is to foster a position that, while it is a job, it’s not really just a job—it’s a student leadership opportunity that is one of the most prideful student leadership jobs that you see.” Starting this year, Begeal said, the program began hiring in the winter, and not in the summer—the summer sessions are no less important, but they are more intense, and hopefully, OLs will be more prepared with a slower start.

He also mentioned that low retention rates for orientation programs are nothing new. Other universities have reported similar issues with few employees returning from semester to semester, and that, if at all possible, he’d “love to have more than five or six employees return” every cycle. Begeal and Hoyt try to be as open as possible about the intensity of the job in the hopes that only students who are prepared apply: “One of the hard parts is that an OL job, because it is very demanding and it does require a lot of that commitment to making connections with your fellow students, it can become one of those scenarios where the compensation that you receive monetarily is not something that equates to the expectation of that amount of work if it were just a job. And we try to be up front with our OLs about that.”

Begeal stressed that the program is limited by the feedback they receive from students. “I think we took away some valuable feedback [from last semester] as well, because we provide the opportunity for our staff, upon their decision to return or not return, to provide feedback on their experience and tell us what some of their concerns were. Many chose not to, and realistically it’s hard to improve something if you don’t articulate what your concerns are. And for those that did, we appreciated that feedback.” 

About the Contributors
Elijah Horwath, Opinions Editor
Olivia Reid, Photo Editor