It is your first few days on campus. You have moved into your residence hall, set up your room to your liking, and kissed your family goodbye. Now, there are still a few days before classes start. You probably are feeling a bit apprehensive about this new chapter in your life.
“How will I make new friends?”
“Wow, D.C. is a lot bigger than it looks on the map!”
“Where is my first class?”
“TDR is closed. Where am I going to eat?”
Lauren Peressini, a rising junior, can empathize – she’s been there. “For me, I was apprehensive about finding my space on campus,” Lauren said. Amanda Riddle, also a rising junior, can empathize as well. “Coming to AU was an overwhelming experience. I was apprehensive about making friends. I was in AU scholars. We had classes with fellow scholars and lived on the same floor with them, so I was not sure how I would meet new people.” Both Amanda and Lauren powered through their feelings of trepidation by participating in what is now known as Explore DC.
Explore DC engages new students in service work at a nonprofit organization or in immersion trips to explore different aspects of D.C., guided by an orientation leader or a faculty or staff member. Explore DC lets students choose one of these experiences with an emphasis on one social justice topic area.
One of these experiences is led by Dining Program’s Registered Dietitian Jo-Ann Jolly. The “Market to Table” trip which addresses Food Justice through a trip to one of DC’s Urban Greens locations, followed by a visit to Fresh Farms’ Farmers Market, located a few steps from the White House. The day ends with a cooking competition, giving students the opportunity to use the produce they have selected. The activities teach students where local ingredients come from. “I want students to be part of D.C. culture. They can learn a lot about D.C. through its food,” Jolly said. “I want students to be informed consumers, who can make a difference. It is important that students know how their food choices can impact the local, national, and global food systems.”
Explore DC is a joint-venture programmed by the Center for Community Engagement and Services (CCES) and Orientation, Transition and Retention (OTR). CCES Coordinator Alisha Chanthinith talked about the innovations in the Explore DC program. “We changed the learning outcome for Explore DC, which now focuses on building community with new students who may not know each other beforehand, along with building community with faculty, staff and upperclassmen outside of the traditional classroom setting.”
Meeting new friends through a shared interest is very important for incoming students, especially since this is the first time many are away from home, and living in a major city like Washington, D.C. Joe Eldridge, Former AU Chaplain and now a Senior Fellow for the organization he founded, the Washington Office on Latin America, agrees with the importance of this community building. “The most important thing is the community. It’s not what you are doing, but the people you are doing it with. The friendships that are developed during this program are the friendships that will endure throughout students’ college careers.”
For Amanda and Lauren, those first few days in the program had a lasting impact on their time at AU and helped them establish their own sense of community at AU and in D.C. Amanda met her best friend during this program and is a now a leader with DC Reads. Lauren discovered a passion for environmental justice and has participated in an Alternative Break program. Both Amanda and Lauren are student staff in CCES and coordinators for Explore DC. Seeing their college careers come full circle is not lost on Amanda. “The transition from a participant to a leader who helps impart the knowledge of AU and helps new students get acclimated is very significant to me. This also gives me a great sense of pride that they are starting their experience at AU with social justice in mind, which is what makes Explore DC so important.”