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An orientation to this year’s O-Week coordinators

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Illustrated by Chloe Xu

By Michael Thomas Russo     2/17/20 4:12pm

In a week jam-packed with social activities and academic sessions, a thousand nervous and enthusiastic freshmen are accepted into the warm embrace of the Rice community. Throughout Orientation Week, students are introduced to countless Rice traditions, given an O-Week group and are inducted into their residential colleges. With next year's class of coordinators already drafting plans, one from each college shared their views on the magic of O-Week.

Baker

Theme: Moana: How Far I’ll GO-Week



Coordinators: Diana De La Torre, Vidisha Ganesh, Rapha Onyeka

Diana De La Torre said she treasures the memory of pulling up to Rice during the first day of O-Week.

“I was with my mom, my dad, my three siblings, one of my cousins, basically our whole squad had come up,” De La Torre, a Baker College junior, said. “It’s a really big deal, especially in Latinx families, to bring their new student to a prestigious institution. My advisor came up and hugged me and was the first person I met and I was so disoriented, but it was really awesome because everyone already knew your name. It was like they cared about you already.”

De La Torre said she is grateful that her own O-Week incorporated a diverse college leadership, one that resonated with her and facilitated a smooth transition into Rice.

“I really loved O-Week when I was a new student,” De La Torre said. “A very integral part of it was that the A-team was really representative of me. We had a Latinx family as magisters and we had a gay couple as [resident associates] and so that was really touching being able to see people that looked like me and had roles and positions of power and were ... successful in [their] academic field[s].”

A passion for diversity and a yearning for agency prompted De La Torre to become an O-Week coordinator, a position that she believes has the power to shift the new student narrative.

“O-Week really sets the groundwork for what the Rice experience is,” De La Torre said. “As a coordinator, you’re in the best position to make Rice a more diverse and inclusive place.”

De La Torre is focused on opening the O-Week experience to as many students as possible.

“There [are] a lot of things that can be done in terms of diversity, inclusion and accessibility specifically,” De La Torre said. “There are a lot of events that now, looking back, seemed really fun to me, but if I had been looking at them from the point of view of a Black student or a person in a wheelchair it would have been a very different experience.”

Will Rice

Theme: ApollO-Week: Every Hero Needs a Home

Coordinators: Jim Zhang, Toluwani Fasina, Jordyn Wainscott

Unfortunately for Jim Zhang, O-Week coincided with a particularly turbulent time in his life.

“[T]here were a lot of big changes. Coming into Rice, I was unsure [where] I would fall into the residential college system,” Zhang, a Will Rice College sophomore, said. “But through O-Week and the people I met, it completely turned that around.” 

This experience, along with a passion for Will Rice, led Zhang to apply to coordinate the college’s O-Week. Although Zhang is excited to meet the new students, he has some reservations about his role, particularly the public speaking required of coords.

“Naturally, I’m pretty introverted and on the more quiet side,” Zhang said.

Zhang wants to communicate to new students that it is unrealistic to leave O-Week with everything perfectly set up.

“No one should come into O-Week feeling pressure to have everything figured out in seven days,” Zhang said.

He also wants to cultivate a community that appreciates the storied culture of Will Rice while simultaneously being willing to break from tradition.

“Will Rice is a place with a lot of history, tradition and culture, and a lot of that is really valued,” Zhang said. “But we also want to impart on the new students the sense that they can change that for the better. That not everything necessarily has to be stagnant. They should feel empowered to be able to approach it as they like.”

Hanszen

Theme: CrescendO-Week: Sing Your Own Part!

Coordinators: Isabelle Scott, Lisa Shi, Jae Kim

For Isabelle Scott, the decision to become an O-Week coordinator stemmed from her desire to give back to her college. Being part of ROTC during her freshman year kept her busy, but Hanszen provided her with an escape.

“I was in ROTC my freshman year and Hanszen meant a lot to me. It was a really easy, accessible way for me to have a life outside of that,” Scott, a Hanszen College sophomore, said. “Coordinating seemed like a really good opportunity as a way to give back to the college and also help other freshmen have the same experience that sets them up for success.”

Scott particularly found support from her O-Week group, who are still some of her closest friends at Rice. However, she wishes she could have been more open with them from the beginning. 

“If I could have known how amazing it would have been going in I would have been able to grow from it even more,” Scott said.

Although Scott is excited at the prospect of planning an amazing O-Week, she’s also nervous about the amount of responsibility she has.

“I’m really looking forward to ... getting to look at all these different aspects that go into creating the new student experience and the chance to have a hand in all the different parts of that and building from the ground up,” Scott said. “[But I’m nervous about] having that much power over the new student experience. It’s going to be a lot of tough decisions to make.”

Every year, O-Week changes, and Scott has begun hatching plans for her own take on O-Week.

“With the [peer academic advisors] becoming floaters, it is going to be an interesting opportunity for us to introduce new positions,” Scott said. 

Wiess

Theme: Team Family Wiess: Discover Your Goldenrod

Coordinators: Varun Kukunoor, Amy Kuriakose, Anika Agrawal

Varun Kukunoor cherishes the day he attended President David Leebron’s O-Week barbecue. 

“One of my favorite memories was hearing the rumors of how people try to take Leebron’s towels and getting all hype about that and seeing if any of my friends were actually going to do it,” Kukunoor, a Wiess College sophomore, said. “The hype surrounding some of the events was really awesome. And of course, the mythical handshake.”

Kukunoor serves on the Wiess Merchandise Committee. His love for Wiess was a crucial motivator for stepping up as an O-Week coordinator.

“O-Week at Wiess was really instrumental to me being comfortable here and me feeling prepared to take on Rice,” Kukunoor said. “I thank my advisors and the rest of the team and everyone for having a really positive attitude. I know how important that was for me so I applied because I feel like I have the confidence and motivation to give back that same energy.”

Although Kukunoor knows that many new students don’t have the same good experience with O-Week, he hopes to make O-Week a positive experience for as many students as possible.

“I know that even in my own O-week not everyone thought their O-Week was amazing,” Kukunoor said. “I did hear a lot of the time, a lot of instances where incoming freshmen didn't get that same experience. I really want to apply the sense of joy and carefreeness that I had in my O-Week and try to give that to as many people as possible.”

With Wiess’s upcoming O-Week, Kukunoor and his fellow coordinators wish to emphasize their mission statement.

“The goals of our O-Week are emphasizing vulnerability; emphasizing conformity is not something necessary at Rice [and] highlighting that diversity is okay,” Kukunoor said. “Uniqueness is what makes each of us important and gives us our place here at Rice.”

He also wants to build more personal connections between O-Week coordinators and new students, a challenge that some coordinators have faced in the past.

“The coords themselves don’t get to interact with the new students as much as the actual advisors,” Kukunoor said. “There is a stereotypical joke that there is a disconnect between the coords and the new students, something that our team is really trying to bridge this year. We want to make sure that the new students know who we are and don’t think of us as these distant faces that just planned O-Week.”

Jones

Theme: Finding NemO-Week: Just Keep Winning

Coordinators: Ishaan Rischie, Anna Reed, Andrea Doan

Whether it be planning events as a Jones social coordinator, helping launch the Rice Squash Club as a favor for a friend or doing research as a Century Scholar at Texas Children’s Hospital, Ishaan Rischie likes to look out for others. 

“O-Week has a really special place in my heart and going forward I wanted to be part of that,” Rischie, a Jones College sophomore, said. “Someone that is responsible for creating that magical experience for all the new students.”

Despite initial anxiety over acclimating to the new environment and finding friends, Rischie came out of O-Week feeling reassured and at home.

“It is just incredibly nice to hear other people’s experiences with O-Week and to see that they came into Rice with similar fears and similar hopes,” Rischie said.

Rischie is looking forward to meeting the new students and seeing the impact of his O-Week well into the future.

“I’m excited to finally bring the new students here and see them grow,” Rischie said. “[I’m excited] to see the new students start building their relationships even past O-Week and see how they grow and develop throughout the school year.”

Rischie has never been an O-Week advisor, and said he’s worried about his lack of experience. However, he is grateful for all the help previous O-Week coordinators have provided him.

“The fact that I didn’t advise means that I haven't seen the behind the scenes of O-Week that much and that worries me just a little bit,” Rischie said. “But our previous coordinators have been super good about answering all my questions about things.”

Brown

Theme: RodeO-Week

Coordinators: Maddie Tumbarello, Kartik Reddy, Kamil Cook

A sunny day at the beach was the highlight of Maddie Tumbarello’s O-Week.

“We go to Galveston [during O-Week] at Brown,” Tumbarello, a Brown College sophomore, said. “I remember playing spikeball with one of the previous coords. I remember bonding with upperclassmen then, and I was like, ‘This is cool, I appreciate that.’”

Tumbarello’s O-Week experience introduced her to the culture at Brown, which she hopes to share with incoming new students.

“I really loved the culture of Brown and I had such a phenomenal O-Week,” Tumbarello said. “I wanted to not only provide freshmen as good of an experience as I had coming into Rice but also have a platform to enact changes that me and my co-team wanted to see across the college.”

As she begins to plan the next O-Week, Tumbarello is already excited to connect with the rest of the Brown community and have a productive O-Week.

“I think it’s gonna be a really fun week, just being able to get to know and lead a team of advisors and help make new students experience Brown and appreciate it,” Tumbarello said.

Rather than make any major changes, Tumbarello hopes to replicate her own, near-perfect O-Week rather than her experience advising last year.

“My experience as a new student my freshman year was very different than my experience as an advisor last year,” Tumbarello said. “A lot of things I realized I want to change came from advising last year. If I could emulate my freshman year O-Week, I would.”

Lovett

Theme: dOugh-Week: We Rise Together

Coordinators: Aayushi Shah, Lillie Plaza, Ben Zaltsam

Aayushi Shah juggles her time between Rice Program Council, Model UN and Camp Kesem. But for Shah, becoming an O-Week coordinator meant much more than just another addition to her resume. 

“When I applied to advise ... I became [a] support network for a new group of students that didn’t know how to navigate Rice. I got to watch them grow and learn and become amazing people,” Shah, a Lovett College sophomore, said. “So I was like, ‘I want to do that for a group of 90 plus students.’”

Although Shah wants the new students to know that Lovett is their home, she also doesn’t want to limit them to their own residential college.

“I’m most excited for new students coming in and getting to know Lovett, but also knowing that Lovett doesn't have to be the only place for them on campus,” Shah said. “They can find a home anywhere here because Rice itself is one big family.”

Despite her excitement, Shah also has concerns about the workload and enjoying the experience.

“I’m nervous for all of it,” Shah said. “I was nervous about theme reveal, and my O-Week dad was like, ‘This is the easiest part, Aayushi.’ It’s gonna be a lot of work over the next eight months. What I’m most nervous about is being so nervous about it that I won’t have fun doing it.”

Along with her hope that the new students will find a home across campus, Shah seeks to foster cross-campus relationships between O-Week coordinators.

“There's a lot of coordinating with each other and making sure everyone is taking care of each other,” Shah said. “Your team of three taking care of other teams of three.”

Sid Richardson

Theme: Vincent Van G-O-Week

Coordinators: Arya Shetty, Sarah Mozden, Priyanka Velappan

Arya Shetty’s favorite O-Week memory was breaking the ice during a Sid Richardson ice skating event, literally.

“I think that was when I relaxed because I fell on my ass in the first ten minutes and no one really said anything. Everyone laughed but it was a good time. That was probably when I really eased into things,” Shetty, a Sid Rich junior, said.

Shetty had an O-Week packed with good memories, and wants others to have as great of a time as he had.

“I honestly have nothing but good things to say about my O-Week experience,” Shetty said. “I wanted to replicate that for new, upcoming students.”

Although Shetty is confident in his ability to lead, he worries he will have difficulty maintaining neutrality when leading over friends.

“I’m a little nervous about the fact that I’ll be in a leadership position over people that I’m very close friends with [and] making the distinction between being a leader and being a friend. I don't see myself having an issue in doing that, but maybe doing it well,” Shetty said.

Although O-Week is fantastic for getting to know the advisors in your own O-Week group, Shetty wants to facilitate more interactions with advisors outside a new student’s O-Week group.

“The advising team is a lot bigger than the advisors that you have as a new student,” Shetty said. “It’s a pretty big community that you’re missing out on.”

Shetty said he and his co-coords want to help Sid develop a stronger college culture. 

“There's not a whole lot of buy-in at Sid to there being a college culture,” Shetty said. “I’m really excited personally to see how we can implement things in O-Week to address that issue.”

Martel

Theme: LegO-Week: What Will You Create

Coordinators: John Elizarraras, Shruti Wadhwa, Megha Reddy

John Elizarraras loves being involved at Martel. Besides being a founder and leader of LIFE, the low-income, first-generation experience group at Martel, Elizarraras is head of Martel’s tech committee and an associate justice. After co-advising at Duncan College, he saw room for improvement in Martel’s O-Week, furthering his pursuit of a better Martel.

“Duncan was a very dramatic shift from [Martel’s fast pace] and I realized that was a perspective I wanted to bring to Martel,” Elizarraras, a Martel College sophomore, said.

Elizarraras doesn’t think he could have had a better O-Week experience, loving both his advisors and fellow new students. He particularly enjoyed the campus-wide scavenger hunt.

“The scavenger hunt was probably my favorite,” Elizarraras said. “I had never been to Rice until I came here, O-Week was my first time being on campus. It was really fun for me, getting to know the place I would be in for four years.”

Elizarraras is excited to see the toils of his labor, especially after O-Week ends.

“That’s gonna be the time where you get to see all the work you’ve done, see it come to fruition. You see O-Week groups put together, you see new students who were able to find people they can identify with and have friends,” Elizarraras said. “The end goal is seeing the new students find a place.”

Although he can’t wait to see the impact he will have on new students, he also has some nerves.

“I’m most nervous for move-in day,” Elizarraras said. “You have to hope that all the events that you planned work out and all the advisors know what they’re doing. I’m just waiting for it to be real, that it’s happening.”

Moving forward, Elizarraras wants to leverage the greater Martel community as a resource for new students.

“I would like freshmen to get more involved in college earlier on,” Elizarraras said. “There are so many people [at Martel] who can help and give their own perspectives on things.”

McMurtry 

Theme: Game ShO-Week

Coordinators: Tatyanna Epps, Alyson Resnick, Aaron Vaughan

Tatyanna Epps said she found a home at Rice after a night out during O-Week.

”We went and got tacos and took this really cute picture outside of Kroger,” Epps, a McMurtry College sophomore, said. “Being away from campus and feeling less of the pressure of the O-Week weighing on me and being able to bond more intimately with my O-Week group was really nice.”

Epps plays for McMurtry Powderpuff, edits for the Rice Examiner, works with Rice Coalition, is a junior treasurer for the Black Student Association and is a diversity facilitator. Adding O-Week coordinating to these numerous time commitments was an easy decision for Epps.

“I had a wonderful O-Week experience,” Epps said. “I felt really at home really fast. I want to be able to give incoming students that same experience.”

Although O-Week is still a ways away, she is already brimming with excitement.

“McMurtry to me has become a home,” Epps said. “I really want to try and welcome people as best I can. I’m so excited to meet everyone and be able to do that.”

Epps is determined to create an O-Week that leaves new students with room to breathe. 

“I think that there are a lot of things thrown at you during O-Week,” Epps said. “You’re thinking about fitting in, then you’re thinking about getting your schedule right and then you're thinking about being homesick. I want to slow down O-Week and give more time to actually have realer relationships develop.”

Duncan

Theme: ElectrO-Week: Spark Your Future

Coordinators: Ashley Roland, Emma Donnelly, Maher Nammour

When she’s not shooting hoops on the basketball court for Rice’s club team, Ashley Roland takes pleasure in embroidery and sewing. Roland now plans to stitch together Duncan’s O-Week. Even though she wasn’t super involved in her own O-Week, co-advising at Brown College inspired Roland to make a change.

“I saw the potential to have a lot of impact here at Duncan,” Roland, a Duncan College sophomore, said. “A lot of potential for making Duncan more of a home to more people.”

Roland fondly remembers the initial meeting of her own O-Week group as a new student.

“I remember just sitting in a group with my O-Week group in particular and getting to meet my advisors and make connections with them the very first time we met,” Roland said. “It was pretty special. I feel it was one of my favorite times.”

Roland is curious to see how well her team matches their chosen group of advisors with the new students who they only know on paper.

“Seeing how it actually works out in real life versus what you had planned for in your head, it’s going to be a hopefully good and interesting thing to watch,” Roland said.

Although she is excited to see how well her team executes O-Week, she fears the possibility of giving a new student a negative experience.

“O-Week is not a positive experience for everyone, but I would be very hurt if someone just absolutely hated it or we did something to offend someone or people didn't feel like they were being accommodated for very well,” Roland said. “One of the things I want to emphasize is that all of us are here for all of them. We don’t want to leave anyone behind.”



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