The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Leading Edge expands to include all first-years

New trips support the university’s diversity, inclusion and wellness initiatives
Student’s explore during Volunteer Venture, a pre-orientation trip for first-years. Photo courtesy of @wlushepard Instagram

This year, all first-years with the exception of fall athletes were required to participate in Leading Edge programs.

The university’s Board of Trustees approved the requirement to help give every student “the same Washington and Lee experience,” Assistant Dean of Students Kim Hodge said.

434 first-year students participated in trips this year.

Incoming students ranked their top five pre-orientation trips through a survey. They were then personally assigned to their trips by Hodge, who said that all but one person got a trip in their top three.

The Leading Edge has two main initiatives, which Hodge calls “pillars,” connecting the program to the university mission; diversity, equity and inclusion, and wellness. As more students with diverse backgrounds participate in Leading Edge, demand has increased for trips highlighting diverse experiences, Hodge said.

Freedom Ride, which gives students an immersive experience of the Civil Rights movement in the South, was the first Leading Edge trip made in response to this increased interest in diversity and inclusion. Originally a spring term class taught by former history professor Ted DeLaney, the class was turned into a pre-orientation trip after his passing in 2020.

Freedom Ride and many other popular trips from past years, including the Volunteer Venture series and Appalachian Adventure, were expanded for the larger participant pool. For example, Volunteer Venture led seven cohorts compared to last year’s six.

When faculty and staff were asked to expand the program to include all first years, they soon realized more trips were going to be needed, Hodge said. The urgency meant there was not a strict approval process for the trips, and faculty members were encouraged to pitch ideas of what they would like to do.

The three new additions to Leading Edge ended up being From Queer to There, Home is Where the Art Is and Wellness Adventure.

Wellness Adventure is part of a new movement to bring more focus to wellness, which Hodge calls the “underrepresented” pillar of Leading Edge.

Students had to send a separate email noting their interest, which then automatically assigned them to the trip.

Despite the program’s changes and new additions in location and theme, the spirit behind each trip remains true to a main goal: creating community.

Pre-orientation is an opportunity to make friends in a more intimate setting than orientation, where students are around a new group of people every few hours, Hodge said. She mentioned that once classes start, students settle into a routine and it becomes harder to expand social circles.

Bonding is not limited between first years on the trips. In fact, upperclassmen leaders are an integral part of Leading Edge. Their presence connects the incoming class to the existing W&L network, creating a greater sense of community once everyone arrives back on campus.

Student leaders are volunteers who are chosen to help shape the trip while mentoring first years. On some trips, they are responsible for first years with little-to-no faculty supervision. On others, they work closely with staff members as facilitators and help lead workshops.

Leaders in Volunteer Venture are given a pre-approved budget and choose how to allocate it for food, events and activities throughout the week, Associate Director and Instructor of Poverty Studies Jenny Davidson said.

With Leading Edge now being a requirement, current first years were able to sign up for trips at no cost, a difference from past years.

Information about funding origins and budget allocations have not been released to the public. Hodge said that “all moneys go toward the educational intent of each trip.”

Looking forward, there is “a lot of debriefing that needs to happen between coordinators, trip leaders and the administration,” Hodge said.

At these meetings, faculty and staff will discuss what worked, what adjustments need to be made, what new ideas there are and whether trips should be brought back.

Participation in Leading Edge programs will continue to be required for all first-years in coming years, at least for now.

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