It was with an understandable mix of adrenaline and exhaustion that Kristina Gallagher of Lorton, Virginia, a senior double-majoring in human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and psychology in the College of Science, led orientation groups around Virginia Tech’s campus last summer. 

As an orientation leader, she experienced a summer filled with hundreds of first-year students, countless questions from parents and family members, and miles of walking backwards.

One morning, an anxious student buddied up to Gallagher. Though she spent just one day of the summer with her, Gallagher remembered this student, and, when the first-year student contacted Gallagher for advice during the fall semester, she was quick to help.

“Being a first-generation college student, this whole thing was completely new to me,” said Gallagher. “I had a really tough first year and wished I had an older mentor to turn to. As an orientation leader, I had the opportunity to be just that to incoming students.”

Gallagher grabbed lunch with the student and shared her experiences, along with advice to keep getting involved and a promise to keep in touch. The first-year student eventually became a member of Gallagher’s sorority, and their initial connection at orientation transformed into a mentoring relationship.

“It came full circle for her, and I’m glad I could have a hand in that process that began with orientation,” said Gallagher. “She has changed my life and had an impact on me as much as I’ve had on her. Seeing the effect that we had on students made me want to mentor orientation leaders this summer.”

This summer, Gallagher returned to the orientation staff as an orientation assistant. She is one of six orientation assistants who have previously served as orientation leaders and now want to take their efforts behind the scenes. Their job is to mentor orientation leaders and ensure that the orientation experience is consistent and enjoyable for all first-year students.

Orientation is an opportunity for new students to meet other incoming Hokies, register for classes, learn about the Hokie community, and receive a Hokie Passport ID card, making the transition to Virginia Tech as comfortable as possible. This year’s orientation for transfer students began June 22. Orientation for first-year students begins July 6 and continues through July 24.

Orientation leaders work with a group of students each day, perform in skits about Virginia Tech, and facilitate group conversations, while orientation assistants help families, handle logistics, and care for the needs of orientation leaders. Each orientation assistant was assigned a group of four orientation leaders during training in the spring, and it is their responsibility to supervise the leadership of the orientation leaders.

“Orientation Assistants handle a lot of the logistical aspects of Orientation so that the [orientation leaders] can focus on the relational aspects of it,” said Danny Strock of Fredericksburg, Virginia, a senior majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who serves as an orientation leader this summer.

An orientation assistant’s day begins with a wake-up call around 5 a.m., followed by breakfast and gathering their team for morning duties. These include assisting with parking in Lane Stadium, student check-in at Squires Student Center, or traffic flow in buildings.

As students and families settle into Commonwealth Ballroom for the opening session, the 24 orientation leaders and six orientation assistants line up quietly in the hallway.

Ryan Hopkins of Martinsville, Virginia, a senior majoring in psychology in the College of Science, returns as an orientation assistant this summer.

“Those five minutes out in the hallway, when we’re trying to be quiet, trying to remember our lines, and trying not to jump to Enter Sandman booming from Commonwealth — those are my favorite parts of the day,” said Hopkins. “I was still getting goosebumps during those five minutes on the last day of orientation.”

Assistants stay backstage during skits, helping leaders switch uniforms and making the program run without a hitch.

At the end of each day, orientation leaders meet with their orientation assistant to share about the day and talk about what to expect for the next day. They hit the hay around midnight or later and start again at 5 a.m.

The orientation staff works hard to keep up its enthusiasm each day throughout the summer. “For the students, it’s always ‘day one,’” said Gallagher. “We want to maintain that excitement, because we’re truly excited for each new group that arrives on campus.”

The orientation staff’s work doesn’t end at the end of the summer.

“Some of the best interactions I’ve had with students are in the fall,” said Hopkins. “One of my students seemed nervous and didn’t talk much at orientation, but, at Hokie Hi, I remember seeing her come through the tunnel with a huge smile on her face. She told me how excited she was to be there.

“Seeing those transitions — whether they happened an hour into orientation or at the end of the fall semester — was really rewarding. That’s not my doing. That’s Virginia Tech’s doing. I’m just lucky to be a part of it.”

Written by Holly Paulette.