Many of us know about the OWL program, or Orientation and Wayfinding Leaders, that assists incoming freshmen with their social and academic transition to Reed through group activities and discussions.
Rumors of its uncertain future began circulating, so the Quest reached out to Janice Yang, the Director of the Office for Student Engagement, and current OWLs for more information.
The program currently does not have a full-time program coordinator, so during the hiring process, Yang leads the program. In an email interview, Yang explains that the program will continue next year “however, it has been modified a bit.” She continues, “In lieu of weekly OWL group meetings for which attendance decreased as the semester progressed, we will leverage having a more captive audience during Orientation week and schedule some more time for OWL group connections and discussions during O-week.”
“I would say the program has been successful,” writes Yang. “The OWLs have been welcoming and effective in stewarding new students, helping them forge connections, and directing them to resources.”
Current OWLs Allison Jefferis, Anna Spollen, Rainie Codding, and Alyssa Bradley shared their experiences in the program with the Quest. While guaranteed housing is a large attraction for OWLs, both Jefferis and Spollen were inspired by their own OWL freshman year. “We both have the same [OWL] our freshman year, Milo,” says Spollen, “who was just an absolute angel. And I think without him I wouldn’t have met a lot of the people I knew the first week, and I wouldn’t know the people I know now. So this was essential to me having a good time.”
“I worked with kids for a really long time,” elaborated Jefferis. “I think it was very successful our year simply because the OWL program was done the way it was the year that we were freshmen: it was done by dorm building. So our group was simply the people who are on our floor, so it sort of forced communication, and you made friends.”
Bradley shared a similar sentiment: “My freshman OWL was super helpful in relieving some of the stress I was in from being in a [sic] overwhelmingly new environment,” they explained over an email interview. “I myself was interested in being a part of the OWL program because I had seen how much good it had done for me.”
“I started Reed in 2020 and it was quite a hard transition,” Codding writes over email. “I wanted to make sure that future first years had a much more welcoming first few weeks.”
However, in a previous iteration of the program, the line between HAs and OWLs was sometimes unclear.
“Our year it was very convoluted,” explains Jefferis, “there were so many complaints that the HA’s were getting—I mean their salaries are like $14,000 or $15,000 a year—and OWLs were getting paid $14 an hour, which is totally, I think, fair for the job description that we were given. But that’s not the job that our OWLs were doing. They were the people from our community who we were supposed to contact, like if you have an issue come and let me know.”
“HAs are dorm advisors,” Bradley clarifies. “They’re more particularly trained than we are in skills needed for that such as crisis and medical emergency response. The OWLs are more geared toward helping out during the transition to the Reed community outside of just where the student is living. The expectations for each position are different overall in terms of time and content, though there might end up being some overlap.”
There seems to be some disorganization in the OWL program as it moves through some growing pains. “I think it was trying—it’s still trying—to figure out what it’s supposed to be,” remarks Spollen. “I mean, we don’t even know, we can’t explain fully, what the job is going to be or is supposed to be. I think our year we were used to our OWL group coming to us like your OWL was in your dorm building with you. So I was really excited to do that. And then it was like, oh, no, actually, you’re gonna get this random group of people and you also have to find a spot where you’re going to meet with them.”
“It wasn’t organized the first year and maybe four or five OWLs rejoined—that was it. The rest of them quit the job and did not return because it was that bad the first year,” says Jefferis. “In my mind going into the job, I wanted to give them grace. It was the first year of the program. I saw a lot of potential in the program. I know that I had a really good time [in the] program but I also knew that most people didn’t. Most of my friends hated their OWL or just simply didn’t care enough because their OWL was not doing anything, and it probably wasn’t any fault of their own. They probably didn’t have any direction or anything like that. But it was really disorganized and it was really hard to do much that was fun because you really had no idea what the job description was other than help the freshmen but what does that mean while still setting boundaries based on being paid minimum wage?”
Codding adds, “I think that the program had a hard time getting first-years to come to weekly meetings, so sometimes I just sat there by myself some weeks.”
Bradley shared that they would like “more clarity and transparency concerning the position itself. It feels like an ever-evolving program, which is great because it allows us to improve, but it also makes defining exactly what we do a somewhat nebulous question.”
“They’re trying to find somebody else [to run the program],” continues Jefferis. “I’m pretty worried about it considering how bare-bones this already is and trying to get somebody brand new, caught up to date, in the know with all of the drama around a job and the position and what it means to the freshmen.”
But the OWLs share optimism for the program’s future. They explain how the reformatted program will concentrate on O-Week activities rather than spaced-out meetings throughout the first semester. “We joined the OWL program because we enjoyed it so much,” concludes Jefferis. “And because we saw what it could be for other people even though it wasn’t necessarily the most productive program for other folks—it was productive for us. Therefore, we saw that it could be for everybody. And that’s why we reapplied because we’re still on that journey to do our best to give that to as many freshmen as we can and to change the program as a whole so that that becomes more of a widespread thing.”
“I think orientation week is very very fun,” writes Codding. “There is so much buzz around campus and everything feels exciting.” Bradley similarly comments, “My favorite experience was definitely being given the opportunity to lead a trip of my own design into the Portland area. I got to take them to Powell’s Books on Hawthorne and get ice cream while we just chatted for a few hours, and it was just a fun time all around.”
“Even though I thought it sometimes felt like a shitshow last year, I see the people who are in my OWL group hang out all the time,” adds Spollen. “And that was, like, the whole reason I did it. I wanted to give people a space where they can just make friends. So, hopefully, the OWL program can keep doing that: giving a space to people to talk to each other and be friends with each other. And I hope I can do that again this year because that’s the thing that made me happiest. So I hope to my OWLs that they’re having a good time”