Connecting before campus
St. Olaf College is known for having a strong community. Alumni often say their friendships are the number one reason they value a St. Olaf experience. And for our prospective students just beginning to learn about campus, meeting other Oles and exploring campus through visits or Admitted Student Day is often what cements their reason to commit.
With so much of normal life being altered this year by the COVID-19 pandemic, the way our incoming class of students has connected with the college — and with each other — has changed a lot.
Roommates who might have met up in-person to discuss dorm furniture are now using FaceTime and Snapchat to meet and connect.
And the Class of 2024 has gotten creative online as well. Emily Trendle ’24 from Chicago, Illinois, founded the Instagram account @olaf4positivity2024 as a way to “meet your classmates, spread positivity, and most of all… CELEBRATE BEING AN OLE! 🦁💛🖤” Though she runs and manages the account alone, content is driven by many other classmates who submit their stories through group chats and direct messages.
Trendle says that she chose St. Olaf “because of the way St.Olaf stepped up to help its current and prospective students during this tough time. I was accepted to 14 schools out of the 17 I applied to, and none of them really stepped up to help out students or even show support for its applicants like St. Olaf and its staff did. So, in the middle of the night sometime mid-May, I put in the deposit fee!”
She started the @olaf4positivity2024 Instagram account based on a suggestion from fellow Oles in a Snapchat group. It features photos of socially distanced high school graduation celebrations, adorable animals, crafts and artwork, mask sewing, and more.
“To describe the group’s mission, I would say it is to spread positivity,” Trendle says. “Although it isn’t exactly what was envisioned, I think it has done amazing things and is gaining lots of traction among our class and the Ole community. Olaf4Positivity2024 has become a place to celebrate graduates, pray for classmates in need, and create positivity through pictures and projects!”
St. Olaf Admissions also hosted a cookie baking contest on Instagram for the Class of 2024. During the summer, a welcome package of St. Olaf gear arrived at the homes of our incoming class, along with a recipe to bake our beloved St. Olaf monster cookies. Photo submissions of their baked cookies were judged by the daughter of Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Chris George ‘94.
The winning photo was chosen because “cute dogs are the way to my daughter’s heart!” says George.
“COVID-19 has certainly presented us with an opportunity to reimagine community building as we have traditionally known it,” says Associate Director for the Office of Student Activities Brandon Cash ‘16.
Cash is working with the Class of 2024 to create a prom on campus to help alleviate the disappointment of proms nationwide being cancelled last spring.
“Guidance on social distancing and other practices to ensure the safety of our community have shifted how we think about student engagement and involvement,” says Cash. “In many ways, we are still figuring out exactly what that means for our campus. Amidst all this uncertainty, however, we knew we needed to do something to add a little light and book the excitement about coming to the Hill when it is safe to do so. That’s where the idea for a prom came from!”
The prom planning committee has been meeting remotely throughout the summer and will announce their chosen prom theme soon.
Brandon Cash ’16, Associate Director for the Office of Student ActivitiesIn my experience, community building is natural for Oles. It is central to who we are — we gravitate toward a sense of togetherness.
“In my experience, community building is natural for Oles,” says Cash. “It is central to who we are — we gravitate toward a sense of togetherness. From what I have seen, this is no different with the Class of 2024. As of now, they continue to build their corner of community virtually as many incoming classes do over the summer months. What is different about the Class of 2024, however, is that I imagine they are building their community with more intentionality. I foresee that incoming Oles are taking more time to build their connections online.”
As we anticipate Move-In Day on Saturday, August 15, 2020, looking quite different from years past, it’s easy to focus on what’s changed. What remains are the people who choose to attend St. Olaf. These creative, caring relationship builders are certain to keep finding each other — and make socially distanced connections — no matter the obstacles.