This fall’s first-years are members of the University’s largest class to date, totaling 996 students, according to an Aug. 26 email from Univ. President Ron Liebowitz. But before the class of 2026 began the first of their four years at Brandeis, they attended New Student Orientation, which began on Aug. 21. Led entirely by students, the week was made possible by 68 student Orientation Leaders, or “OLs,” and the Orientation Core Team, three veteran OLs who serve as supervisors as well as plan and run various orientation events.

The unprecedented size of the class of 2026, combined with the least restrictive COVID-19 policies that the University has had since the pandemic started, made this an unconventional Orientation, but a successful one nonetheless. Some of this year’s highlights included long-time Orientation traditions. At “Light the Night,” first-years are each given a battery-powered tealight to write their hopes and dreams for their experience at Brandeis, which they illuminate simultaneously as a class on the first night of Orientation. A trip to the Boston Museum of Science is another tradition that the class of 2026 was able to experience.

Core leader Sungwon Cho ’23 described the excitement of developing new events as well as upholding old traditions. New events included themes such as Neon Night, Sleepover Night, and Carnival Night, Cho explained. “It gave us so much satisfaction to work on these events from fantasy to reality,” Cho said in an Aug. 29 interview with the Justice. He added that, as an upperclassman and veteran OL, “it was especially cool to see Light the Night from the perspective of a Core member, looking at all of the tealights lifted up rather than being in the crowd.”

Besides all the fun, first-years were required to attend a few training events to better acclimate to campus life, Core leader Emma Fiesinger ’23 explained in an Aug. 29 interview with the Justice. This year, she said, “we tried to include more activities that would help new students.” Some of the new informational events included a campus scavenger hunt dubbed the “Shapiro Scramble,” and the “Resource Fair” from years past was “revamped” into the Resource Expo, or “Rexpo,” according to Cho, where “students could explore the different services Brandeis provides.” 

Core leader Andie Scheinbaum ’24 reflected on the successes and lessons from this year’s events, now that Orientation has come to a close. In an Aug. 28 interview with the Justice, she said, “First-years quickly became friends with each other, and our evening events were always packed. That was super exciting for us.” Scheinbaum added that she’d continue to have a “chill zone” where first-years could have a respite from the packed Orientation activities without being isolated. Yet, this year’s Orientation came with some challenges as well. “I didn’t expect how difficult it would be to make first-years wear masks,” Scheinbaum said. “Their willful ignorance was incredibly frustrating.” Scheinbaum applauded the OLs for their work in enforcing Brandeis’ indoor masking protocols and handing out masks in accordance with university guidelines. 

Cho explained how this year was an “unorthodox” one, due to the large class size and the OLs being short-staffed. Therefore, Core had to come up with creative ways to support their OLs. The International Students and Scholars Office rolled out their own welcome wagon for international students, led by the office’s International Student Welcome Committee Representatives, or “iREPs.” The iREPs joined forces with the OLs after their duties were finished at the International Student Days, Cho explained. “This is not something that is typically done, but as we were in a transitional year and looking for more student staff, we were exploring this idea,” he said. 

Each OL also had a co-OL to work with to “alleviate some of the stress” that comes with having an unusually large class paired with a limited staff, Fiesinger said, which is a continuation of a previous practice. Cho said that the OLs and Core did a “group bonding” with Community Advisors and iREPs as new students came to campus. “This allowed us to establish relationships and have a closer connection with students from different departments,” Cho said. Working alongside CAs, Cho said, Core made sure that Orientation’s Sunday events were “planned accordingly” so that there weren’t conflicts with CAs’ hall meetings for their first-year residents. 

Cho echoed Scheinbaum in singing the praises of this year’s OLs. “Our OLs were integral in making the incoming students’ Orientation experience an amazing one,” he said. “I loved the chemistry between the OLs and us [Core], and we are so thankful to have worked with them during this Orientation.” He also applauded what he called the Core’s “fearless leaders,” Shelby Harris, assistant vice president of Student Engagement, and current Director of Orientation and First-Year Experience Laura Flynn. “They were a huge help, and Orientation could not have happened without them,” he said. 

This year’s Orientation was a novel experience for the University and OLs, and of course, the first-years themselves. As Scheinbaum said, “I’m so proud of the community us and OLs were able to form.”