I have spent the last two summer breaks as an employee of the Illinois Tech Office of Campus Life (OCL) in the Student Orientation, Advising, and Registrations (SOAR) program. A mandatory program for all new students at the university (undergraduate and graduate, domestic and international, first-year and transfer), SOAR functions as a catch-all series of information sessions, as well as an opportunity for students to meet new potential friends and acquaintances before officially beginning their time at the university. It is the job of the student SOAR Leader to ensure that the scheduled events of a typical SOAR session (a lot of guest speakers and check-ins) happen according to their proper timings, as well as occupy the new students in engaging ways that will hopefully leave them with meaningful relationships and experiences before even sitting in a classroom.
While my experience as a SOAR Leader can easily be attributed to following pre-made and mundane procedures checking off names on lists, ushering students and family members into various auditoriums, and setting up laptops for upcoming presentations and registrations, to leave my experience at such surface-level takeaways would be doing a disservice both to the position’s true significance and to myself.
The true SOAR is not showing up to a mandatory day of presentations on paying tuition and submitting immunization information. Nor is the true SOAR meeting one’s advisor for the first time and finally registering for classes. No, the true SOAR is every conversation had before and after sessions with the student that happens to be in the seat next to you or in the same SOAR group as you. The true SOAR is having a conversation with your SOAR Leader about their experience and discovering you both went to the same concert a week ago. The true SOAR, dare I say it, is the friendships I made along the way.
Having run the gauntlet of SOAR through two incoming classes, I feel qualified enough to speak on my experience as one that has played a pivotal role in affirming my own personal convictions and connections to the field of education. Being able to relate my own life story, experiences, and background knowledge to another individual and applying it all in a way that benefits a life beyond my own is where I can truly find something resembling passion and fulfillment, and my employment in the SOAR program is what made such a revelation possible. Every time a former SOAR student of mine decides to join one of the various student organizations I mentioned or waves to me in an academic hallway or even asks to join me for a meal in the Commons, I find within me a sense of reassurance that my SOAR experience has truly taken a flight of its own, which I will always be able to look at and be grateful.