The summer before my first year at WashU I was full of emotions –sad to be leaving behind the only school I’d ever known for 14 years, excited to explore a new city and get involved on campus, anxious about living in the dorms, and nervous to (hopefully!) meet at least a friend or two. Thankfully, I signed up for a pre-orientation program that would let me start this big, life-changing adventure a few days earlier than most students. However, that unmemorable day in May, the day that I signed up for Leadership Through Service, is a day that would shape my entire college experience in the best way possible.
I’ll start with a brief snapshot. What is Leadership Through Service (which I’ll refer to from this point forwards as LTS)? LTS is the second oldest and largest pre-orientation program on campus, just behind L.A.U.N.C.H. Because of this, LTS is rich in history and has thousands of alumni who have had the opportunity to participate in this three-day immersive program. The goal of LTS is to introduce and acclimate first year students to Washington University as well as St. Louis. The program is packed to the brim and challenges participants to broaden and deepen their understanding of pressing social justice issues and what it truly means to be a member of the St. Louis community. This is done by engaging in small and large group dialogues, participating in service projects with various community partners, listening to thought provoking speakers like Bob Hansman and Philip Deitch, exploring iconic St. Louis attractions (like Tower Grove Park and the City Museum), and participating in a somber, thought provoking poverty simulation activity. Not only do students get the chance to get to know St. Louis but they are also able to acclimate to WashU before the entire first year class arrives on campus (aka you get to choose which side of the room you want!)
Leadership Through Service was a defining experience in my time here at WashU as it is for many students. LTS brought to my attention the complexities that lie within the historical fibers of St. Louis. St. Louis has been pegged as “The Divided City” and this program gives students the opportunity to explore what exactly that means and how they can insert themselves into the context of the greater St. Louis community. LTS plants seeds in the minds of participants that can then be cultivated and strengthened with the help of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement throughout the subsequent semester and beyond. LTS gives students the opportunity to become familiar with the resources and programs that can help them stay connected to and engaged with St. Louis. Because of LTS, I was introduced to City Faces. City Faces is a program that allows students to interact with kids in the Clinton Peabody neighborhood through tutoring and mentoring programs as well as specialty programs like Girls Club, Boys Club, and Community Garden. Through City Faces, I’ve built meaningful relationships with kiddos I wouldn’t have met otherwise. LTS truly was, for me, the beginning of an incredible chain reaction when it came to getting involved on campus.
Last but certainly not least, Leadership Through Service fosters a sense of community and allows students to create relationships with other participants as well as their upperclassman counselors. The growth and closeness that results from just three days is truly unbelievable. There are approximately 90 first year students who participate in LTS each year. Each cohort is divided into seven groups of thirteen first-year students, each led by a counselor pair. This gives students the opportunity to be a part of a smaller, more intimate group in order to drive deeper dialogue surrounding some powerful topics that resonates with and affects each participant differently.
After participating in LTS my first year, I knew it couldn’t end there…it just couldn’t. So, I served as one of the fourteen counselors during my sophomore year. My co-counselor, Maya, and I had the incredible opportunity to lead the purple team (purple produce, what’s the status?! #soooofresh!). The thirteen first-year students on the purple team made my experience as a counselor more meaningful and special than I’d ever imagined. They were inspiring, thoughtful, fun, engaged, and bright students who continue to amazing me to this day. Beyond the purple team, the thirteen other individuals who made up the counselor group (LTSquad) have become some of my best friends here at WashU. I am lucky to have met such passionate, like-minded, fun people who will stay up until 3:00am at the Clocktower talking about social injustices and how we, as nineteen-year-olds, can change the world. Big surprise… I still couldn’t get enough LTS and therefore I am serving as one of the coordinators for the program this upcoming pre-orientation season. So, if you are a part of WashU Class of 2021 and have yet to sign up for a pre-o, sign-ups are open until tomorrow, August 1st. 10/10 would recommend!
If you can’t tell by my story, pre-orientation played a huge role in shaping my WashU experience and I can’t imagine college without it.