Welcome To Our Web, known as WOW, is a new student-run organization that led the welcome initiative for new and returning Spiders from August through early October in 2021.
The Center for Student Involvement launched the idea for the organization in spring 2021 after students expressed concern that there was a lack of campus activity, WOW intern Ginny Zhang said. Students also expressed concern that Welcome Week, the previous University of Richmond tradition, did not give students enough time to attend all the events without feeling overwhelmed, Zhang said.
To resolve those concerns, CSI sought applicants for paid summer internships who were interested in improving the welcoming experience at UR by focusing on inclusivity and tradition innovation, according to a Spiderbyte sent on April 9.
“Personally, I wanted campus to feel like a space where people were not scared to be themselves,” WOW intern Dani Valderrama-Avila said. “And for me, that's allowing students to make deeper, meaningful connections with other students, so creating that space for them to do that was one of the first things that we wanted to focus on.”
The four interns worked 20 hours each week in Tyler Haynes Commons Suite 340 from May through August. The interns spent the first few weeks brainstorming ideas that would bring students together and spark new traditions.
“The beginning, it was mostly planning,” WOW intern Colin Elgarten said. “We came up with probably like 15 to 20 proposed events.”
After consulting with supervisors, the team narrowed its focus to five core events for fall 2021: an orientation event featuring Comedy Magician Ben Seidman, Spider Drop, Hometown Throwdown, Activities Night and the WOW Concert.
WOW interns planned the logistics of each event, including contacting vendors, creating partnerships with campus organizations and budgeting. Each intern took charge of a specific event in addition to leading a planning sector.
As the events and programming lead, Elgarten planned the details of the events within the WOW budget.
Valderrama-Avila, who served as the marketing and promotions lead, focused her efforts on spreading awareness of the upcoming WOW events by creating and running the WOW Instagram, @UR_WOW, and TikTok, @ur_wow, accounts. Valderrama-Avila also designed and ordered WOW swag, including water bottles, hats and t-shirts to give to students attending the events.
The WOW team also marketed events through a calendar on the University of Richmond Presence page, Zhang said. As the campus partner collaboration lead, Zhang communicated with department directors and organized partnerships with them to host the WOW events or offer additional welcoming opportunities to students.
For a department event to be approved by WOW, it must have occured between the first day of classes and Oct. 1 and support student growth, the pursuit of knowledge, diversity and inclusion, Zhang said. Once approved, the events were posted on the WOW calendar and marketed by the intern team.
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As the tradition lead, WOW intern Kavon Thompson focused on establishing new traditions, as well as identifying and addressing social problems on campus in order to build community and inclusivity on campus.
“I tried to cultivate a lot of different ideas, and the idea that got the most traction … was Spider Drop, which happened the night before classes started,” Thompson said.
Thompson added that he felt proud that so many students attended and enjoyed the new event.
Spider Drop featured a concert in front of Richmond Hall and a light show on Boatwright Tower on Aug. 22, according to a University of Richmond Instagram post. Over 600 students attended the event -- far more than the 200 expected by the WOW team, Valderrama-Avila said.
Valderrama-Avila added that in the future she hoped the WOW team would prepare enough swag for all attendees.
The WOW team plans to meet in the near future to debrief the WOW season, discuss changes they would like to implement for next year and the transition to hiring a new slate of interns, Elgarten said.
Thompson said that he had noticed the campus growing into a more inclusive environment after the season of events and hopes that the tradition of Spider Drop continues in the future.
The interns said they received positive feedback from students who attended the events, especially first-year students who felt that the WOW programs helped their transition into the UR community.
Elgarten said WOW had provided a foundation for new students to become involved and build community over their next four years.
Upperclassmen also appreciate the new focus, Valderrama-Avila said.
“They stopped me, and they're like, ‘In my four years I've never seen or experienced anything like this, and I'm so glad that I have had the opportunity to be part of it,’” Valderrama-Avila said. “And I don't know why, but every single time I hear that it's like, wow, all this stress and the hard work paid off because it's so rewarding. ... Seeing your effect on other people's lives.”
Contact news writer Teresa Rozier at email@example.com.
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