Here's the pitch: A group of teenagers and others of just legal drinking age, most of whom are strangers, have to co-exist for an extended period and learn the fine art of compromise. They will share meals, enjoy the night life together and pretty much spend the majority of their time in each other's presence.
Sounds like the cast of MTV's Real World, huh?
No. Try, the staff of Orientation '99.
For the 11-person group, the past three months have indeed resembled the popular show, save for its television cameras and deluxe accommodations such as a hip city loft or a decked-out beach house.
But unlike the typical Real World cast, where tension sometimes run high, these young people genuinely like each other.
"We're about as tight as tight comes," says Jon Burd, a senior international studies major and executive chair of Orientation '99. "Only two or three people knew each other before we started. Now we go out clubbing, go out to dinner and hang out in each other's apartments."
In fact, planning the weeklong event for the incoming freshman class has been so much fun, members of the staff say they'll be happy if the actual orientation is half as enjoyable.
The festivities begin Saturday, Sept. 4, the big move-in day, and continue until Sept. 10, the day after classes start.
The job of the orientation staff is to help acclimate the 1,033 freshmen to their new surroundings and to organize events aimed at student interaction. The staff also helps organize an army of 450 volunteers who will pitch in on that first day by unloading cars and carrying those computers and bean-bag chairs to the dorm rooms.
Burd remembers his own move-in day and says that it can be a very draining experience for freshmen, emotionally as well as physically. In past years, orientation has not included a major event on arrival day because of its very nature. This year, however, the orientation staff is not giving the class of 2003 any time to dwell on things: A luau in the garden of Nichols House, the residence of President William R. Brody, will kick off the week.
The sand pits, tiki torches, huts and island music are just what are needed to welcome the freshman class, Burd says.
"We thought that instead of laying low, we would go all out that first night and set the tone for the rest of the week," says Burd. "We are going to create a really high-intensity, high-energy event that will be a lot of fun."
Other activities planned for the week include a crab feast, salsa lessons, Playfair (which brings out the entire freshman class), movie night in the Gilman Quadrangle and club night at the Latin Palace in downtown's Fells Point.
Jackie Garonzik, Orientation '99 executive assistant, says these social activities aren't meant just to be fun but are intended to make the freshman class "mingle and get to know one another."
"The entire time we have been working, we've been trying to find ways to get everyone involved and to make things so they will have to go to these events," Garonzik says. "We wanted to emphasize the need to get them out there and get them started."
There is more to Hopkins than how well you can dance to Ricky Martin music, however, and orientation also will address the academic and social aspects of college life.
The theme of orientation week is "The Truth Is Here," a variation of the school's motto, The Truth Shall Make You Free, made to mirror The X-Files television show mantra, "The Truth Is Out There."
The theme, Burd says, focuses on academic integrity.
"We went out of our way to emphasize that this is an institution of integrity, ethical standards and a certain moral set," Burd says.
To that end, on Sept. 7 there will be a two-hour program on ethics that will examine how one's personal values and morals are entwined with those of others. Additional programs will deal with such weighty issues as multicultural diversity, alcohol awareness and sexuality.
"A lot of this is geared toward making sure the freshmen who are coming to us are as aware as possible of the different things they might encounter on campus," Burd says. "And through awareness, hopefully they're safe. We unfortunately can't prevent dangers, but what we can do is to make them aware of dangers they might come across so they are more prepared to deal with them."
On a similar note, Steven Zucker, a professor of mathematics in the School of Arts and Sciences, will make students aware of some of the academic perils that lie ahead.
Zucker will present a lecture on Sept. 7 titled "College-Level Math: How 'A' Students from High School Turn into 'C' Students or Worse, and How to Avoid It." Zucker says there is a definite disparity between high school and college levels of math, and students need to grasp concepts and be much more flexible with problem solving than they were in high school.
"It's almost inhumane to give the freshmen over to the faculty, especially in mathematics and the sciences, when they haven't received a lecture on how things are different, in a substantially pointed manner," Zucker says. "Students are expecting to do a little bit more in college. But when the gap is larger, as in mathematics, most students really don't know what to do."
The solution, Zucker says, is that students need to work harder than they did in high school, and make sure they have command of the materials. This applies to all subjects, he adds, not just math.
"The idea is that mathematics is the extreme, but in any subject professors will want more flexibility from their students," Zucker says.
Orientation also aims to build school spirit and community by involving new students in activities that include a daylong service experience dubbed "Into the City: JHU Day of Caring," which was organized by Ashley Waters and Pia Saunders, core program co-chairs for orientation. On Sept. 8, more than 700 students--freshmen, resident advisers and orientation staff--will tackle 15 service projects, ranging from neighborhood cleanup to assisting in the renovation of a youth center, in the Greater Homewood community.
Burd says the orientation staff has tried very hard to cram as many activities into the week as possible, even shooting for the stars by trying to lure popular recording artists Britney Spears and R.E.M. to campus. (So far, no luck.)
"We just want this to the best orientation ever. We have the biggest and brightest class to come to Homewood in decades, and it would be a shame and a waste to not take advantage of the opportunity to leave an indelible mark on them," Burd says. "There is such a real and palpable enthusiasm among us right now. I think all of us hope that everyone feeds off this energy that we have."