Class of 2006 arrives at Bates College
On August’s final Wednesday, a handwritten cloth banner hangs above the entrance to a big brick 1960s-era residence hall at Bates College. In bold purple, green and orange on the white cloth, veteran Bates students offer a welcome greeting to their first-year counterparts: “We’re psyched you’re here.”
One of those first-years is Evan Kornack of Dover, Mass. Taking a break from moving in while his family waits nearby in their SUV, Kornack too seems pretty psyched on this sunny day. “I’m excited,” he says. “It’s nice to be up here.”
His goals for the fall are straightforward, he adds: “Meet a whole bunch of people, have a good soccer season and get some good grades.”
Kornack’s arrival is a scenario repeating with increasing intensity at Bates as the Labor Day weekend arrives. He is one of 205 young men and 216 women constituting the Bates College Class of 2006. They in turn are part of a total of 1,702 students enrolled on campus this fall; another 40 are studying abroad in Bates-sponsored programs.
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–>For first year students like Kornack, there’s much more to starting at Bates than simply hanging their Ja Rule or Nine Inch Nails posters on a new set of walls. “I remember feeling so awkward the first week I was here — ‘What do I do, where do I go, who are my friends?’ You don’t know any of that,” says Hilary Benson, a native of Kingston, Wash., and a senior at Bates whose interdisciplinary major encompasses education, environmental studies and political science.
Bates’ response includes both an on-campus orientation and the Annual Entering Student Orientation Program, commonly known by its acronym, AESOP. The eight days of on-campus orientation began on Aug. 30 and overlap with Convocation and the start of classes, both on Sept. 4 this year. Programs run the gamut from the practical to the ritualistic and from the academic to the social (Monday evening’s outdoor movie screening on the library quad is particularly atmospheric).
AESOP, on the other hand, has somewhat different goals. With about 60 percent of first-year students taking part, it involves three- and four-day excursions — 36 of them this year — that put first-years, guided by older peers, onto hiking trails and into kayaks. The intent is to introduce first-years to Maine and to each other without the distractions of being on campus.
“When you’re on AESOP you meet a core of seven friends those first four days,” says Benson, who co-coordinated AESOP this year with John Lichtman of Woodbridge, Conn. “And then during your first two weeks of transitions you have these people you can go to Commons with — people that you see and you’re kind of relieved.”
As much as the trips are about experiencing the glories of the Maine outdoors, Benson adds, these expeditions “are more about the experience, about meeting the other students, about talking to leaders and finding out the inside secrets of Bates before you are on campus.”
Although two members of the college faculty and staff took part in this year’s AESOP trips, the program is distinguished by the fact that it’s pretty much all designed and administered by students. And though 30 of this year’s expeditions took students to places like Katahdin and Moosehead Lake, six for the first time stayed local, says Benson. Pursuing community service projects in Lewiston and the nearby town of Greene, these new projects were designed to introduce first-years to both the community and the notion of service-learning, a key tenet in the Bates philosophy.
Meanwhile, on campus, the parents of a first-year student from Yokahama, Japan, hurry to meet their daughter at the George and Helen Ladd Library. “We’re very nervous and excited at the same time,” says Toshiko Tanaka, mother of Erika Tanaka. Erika is one of eight students from Japan and 39 international students, from 23 countries, in the Class of 2006.
Toshiko and her husband, Souchi, are nervous because it’s the first time their daughter will spend so much time so far from home. But they are excited, Toshiko said, because Erika “will probably have lots of new experiences.”
“She’ll meet lots of different people from all over the world.”