August 20, 2018
Amanda Nagy
Image of Cleveland script sign
The Cleveland script sign at North Coast Harbor. Photo credit: File photo

Orientation is a week of events designed to help first-year, international, and transfer students transition into life at Oberlin. This year, amid the information sessions, social activities, and course advising and registration, the college is introducing a new program that will help students discover Oberlin’s place in greater Northeast Ohio. For the first time ever, Orientation week includes a daylong outing in Cleveland that will connect students with organizations and alumni in the city.

Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar explains that the intent of Connect Cleveland is to connect new students to the city and strengthen ties between Oberlin and Cleveland.

“The visit by the Class of 2022 will vividly demonstrate that our community is just 40 minutes away from this dynamic city,” Ambar says. “Breaking the barrier that sometimes seems to exist between Oberlin and Cleveland right at the beginning of our students’ Oberlin careers will help them develop connections, see possibilities for internships, and get to know an urban center where they can find ways to effectively apply their liberal arts education to real-world challenges.”

Organized by the Bonner Center, the new Connect Cleveland program will bring approximately 850 new students from the college and conservatory, along with nearly 100 peer advising leaders (PALs), faculty members, and Oberlin staff members to the city on August 29 to participate in a variety of service projects with more than a dozen organizations. The day also will include site visits, tours, and workshops across the city.

“This is an opportunity for students to learn about the broader Northeast Ohio region, the context in which Oberlin is situated, and to think about Cleveland from a lot of different perspectives including sustainability, health, education, and the arts,” says Trecia Pottinger, director of the Bonner Center. 

Students will be divided into cohorts specific to different sites and led by Peer Advising Leaders (PAL) and ConPAL student leaders. Examples of scheduled service projects include the Cleveland Book Bank, where students will sort, check, and box books for distribution to partner organizations that serve children from low-income families; Ingenuity Fest, where students can work on priming and prepping a large mural wall; Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Workforce Development, where students will participate in food production to support the Central Kitchen’s delivery of 1,500-plus meals to area homeless shelters every day; counting donated items at Providence House crisis nursery; and composting, harvesting, and weeding with Rid-All Green Partnership.

Among the many site visits and tours are the BOP STOP, Cleveland Orchestra, Gordon Square Arts District/Detroit Shoreway Community Development Corporation, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and a workshop with the Morgan Paper Conservatory.

Pottinger says that some visits will correlate with the theme of first-year seminars, while other sites present an opportunity to learn about Cleveland from the perspective of an organization.

As part of the program’s framework, students will be asked to review materials about the organizations in advance, and peer advising leaders will facilitate discussions to help students reflect on their experiences. “In keeping with the Bonner Center's approach, we are thinking intentionally about how to integrate orientation, experience, and reflection,” Pottinger says.

In recent years, the college has ramped up its engagement in Cleveland through its Cleveland Immersion Program and other initiatives. The Bonner Scholars Program already works with several Cleveland partners during its annual spring break service trip, in which first-years participate in service and site visits and engage in cultural and social activities.

“The college is working to more deeply embed this outing in Cleveland in future Orientation activities and tie it more directly to coursework students may pursue during their tenure at Oberlin,” Ambar says. “I’m really excited about building on this work.”

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