Learning While Leading
Niamh O’Shea is a fourth-year human rights and women and gender studies student.
When I applied to work at the Student Experience Office (SEO) as a Summer Orientation Leader in March 2011, I was looking for a summer job that was a little different from my previous experiences. I was seeking out an opportunity that would allow me to work full time, develop transferable professional skills, and be part of a team engaging in meaningful work. Little did I know that not only was I in for a summer that would allow me to experience all that and more, but that I would also be back for another round in summer 2012.
The Summer Orientation program is a one-day experience offered by the SEO to incoming first year students that seeks to facilitate an informed transition to university. Students learn about academic support services, residence and off-campus living, campus services, and financing an education, as well as receiving registration assistance, a tour of campus, and lunch at the Fresh Food Company. Every summer, a group of 8 to 10 students is hired to lead the students through all aspects of these orientation sessions as Carleton University ambassadors, as well as to work on portfolios composed of planning for events and programs that happen throughout the year, such as IKEA Student Madness, Community Service-Learning (CSL), or the Co-Curricular Record (CCR).
This year, I was selected to be the student team leader. While other Summer Orientation Leaders were working on events that would occur during the academic year, the majority of my portfolio work pertained to ensuring the success of the Summer Orientation program this summer. Under the direction of my supervisor Diandria, I took on logistical duties such as training our team of nine Summer Orientation Leaders as tour guides and presenters; coordinating with campus partners such as the Department of University Safety, Instructional Media Services, the Carleton Disability Awareness Centre and Maintenance Services to ensure the best day possible for all our guests; and organizing data on the evaluations of our program. Alongside these tasks, I worked on professional development programming for our team, through facilitating team builders, leading goal-setting sessions, and organizing staff development activities like rock-climbing and a Strengths Finder workshop.
While I had been a Summer Orientation Leader the year before, in many ways, this summer offered me a steep learning curve. I had never managed a large group of people in a professional setting before nor taken on organizing a program as large scale as Sumer Orientation, yet as daunting as this was, it was a great opportunity to learn and foster a new skillset. On the logistics end, I learned a lot about event coordination, effective time management and decisive problem solving: an exploding toilet, sudden room change or unexpected technology glitch can teach you to be decisive pretty quickly! In terms of my staff development and management role, I had to become aware of how to balance different needs within a group of co-workers, how to be assertive while being authentic to my own leadership style, and how to identify and draw out the strengths of individuals to make most effective use of people’s talents.
This learning, which was really about developing strong interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, is one of the things I value most about my experience this summer because it was so challenging. It encouraged me to reflect on what I value in a workplace, and what kind of atmosphere and relationships I want to foster. Thankfully, I worked with wonderful, patient, intelligent and aware team members and professional staff who were supportive as I came into my own understandings of leadership, management and development.
With summer over, it’s incredible to look back and see what our team accomplished. The Summer Orientation program provided over 1,800 incoming first year students and 1,500 guests an opportunity to uncover the programs, services and offices that will assist them in making their transition to Carleton University a success, as well as to explore campus and get answers to the questions they had. Individually, members of our team have also been integral to the planning and implementation of up-coming events such as Terry’s CAUSE on Campus, Carleton Serves and IKEA Student Madness, and programs such as Alternative Spring Break (ASB) and Days of Service. Beyond our achievements in Summer Orientation and our portfolios, we’ve all grown professionally and personally as well – and we have gained an amazing support group of friends in the process.
If you’re interested in a summer job where no two days are exactly the same, you work with an incredible team, and your professional growth is prioritized by everyone in the office, I definitely recommend looking out for Summer Orientation Leader applications in the winter semester. Every Summer Orientation experience is unique, and both summers I came away with new skills, new insight, and a sense of accomplishment from being involved in something much bigger than myself. Hope to see you next summer!
Submitted by Niamh O’Shea, a fourth-year human rights and women and gender studies student.
Learn more about Summer Orientation at carleton.ca/orientation