PAL program: helpful or Oberkill?
JOOSKE VAN HOUTEN // SEPTEMBER 27, 2019
This week marks the completion of my first month at Oberlin. As the new school year is starting to get into full swing, it seems like everyone, new and returning students alike, has gotten used to their new environment.
One of the things that smoothed the transition into college life as a freshman was the Pear Advising Leaders (PAL) program. Initiated in the fall of 2017, the Peer Advising Leader Program is meant to help first-year students adjust to their new life at college. Every year, incoming students are divided into different cohorts all consisting of about 15 people. Each group is led by a student who has gone through a special PAL training.
Six times throughout the first semester the PAL cohort comes together in a class called Lead 050, Introduction to Oberlin Life and Learning. The Office of the Dean of Students describes it as a “one-credit, co curricular course [that] will cover topics designed to support students in becoming effective intentional learners.” Each session covers a different topic, such as time management, study strategies or winter term.
Most freshmen view participation in the PAL program as a very useful step in the process of adjusting to college life:.
“The PAL orientation helped me a lot, because I’d never been to Oberlin before. It helped me learn a lot more about how the system works and how to get places and it addressed most of my main concerns, like how to register for classes,” first-year Alba Diaz explains.
However, not all freshmen find the program and following classes convenient.
Another freshman adds, “I didn’t feel like it particularly taught me anything that I couldn’t have read somewhere. I think Lead 050 is going to help me with stuff like winter term. But the first session wasn’t really helpful. I just feel like a lot of the info is easily accessible in other places.”
Besides helping first-years adjust to the hustle and bustle of college life, the PAL program is also meant to initiate social interaction and create a sense of community among the students.
“The PAL program made me meet different people but also my first year seminar professor and my advisor, which was nice.” Diaz states. “I also engaged more with my peers through Connect Cleveland. My PAL group went to a book bank. We had to sort through books that would be delivered to different libraries. I made friends with the people I was working with and it made us connect a lot more.”
Still, not everyone is as enthusiastic about their PAL orientation.
“I know a lot of people who have had really good experiences. I keep wishing I had that same experience. I like the people in my PAL group and my seminar. But I don’t really feel like we made any valuable group connection.”
Senior and PAL Devyn Malouf finds the program, and especially the Lead 050 sessions, very important in the process of forming a strong bonds with students.
“I think that a lot of the benefits you get out of Lead 050 come from the social aspect. The fact that you see people in class frequently and then see them outside of class in a more casual setting really solidifies and strengthens relationships with people that you already know have (at least somewhat) similar interests. I’ve made a lot of friends through the courses I’ve taken, but the friends I’ve stayed closest with are the ones I’ve made an effort to see outside of class, and I think Lead provides a very natural way to do that. Plus having an older peer to facilitate and organize those interactions, I think, takes the pressure off of y’all if you don’t make the effort or if it feels awkward. So that alone, I think, makes taking Lead 050 a worthwhile experience.”
Malouf also mentions that the current program is very different from her orientation three years ago.
“It was a complete mess. There was still the required meetings and some organized social events but they all seemed a bit silly. My main social interactions happened in my dorm, which was great, but I really wish I had been forced to meet and spend time with people from different parts of campus. I I think the structure of PAL and how it forces students to get together and work out things they’re unsure about is really great.”
As an international student who isn’t familiar with the American education system, I can definitely say that the PAL program has provided a good support system for the adjustment to not only my new college life, but also my new American life as well. Furthermore, the program and my first year seminar has given me the opportunity to create a tight bond with the people in my cohort. From discussing important matters in class (R.I.P. Argos the dog) to spending time with each other outside the classroom, my group has grown into a kind of family that I can always fall back on. I probably wouldn’t have met some of my best friends if it wasn’t for the PAL program (also, shoutout to Devyn, the best PAL ever.
While the PAL initiative and Lead 050 are definitely good ways to get in contact with peers during your first weeks of college and learn more about your new environment, the program might not be your thing. And that’s totally fine. At least we can all proudly say that we’ve survived our first month of college.