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2011 alumna leads a very different kind of orientation

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Posted on Thursday, August 6, 2020

This year’s orientation for first-year and transfer students may not bear much resemblance to Candace Okello’s 2007 experience as a Westminster College freshman, but as the College’s new point person for the annual event, she’s hoping it will be just as engaging.

Okello, a 2011 alumna, returned to Westminster in the spring as associate dean of student affairs with a focus on student success and inclusive excellence. A key element of her new position that she was anticipating: overseeing Westminster’s traditional orientation program. What she was not expecting: a global pandemic.

With new campus-wide health protocols in place to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus, Okello and her orientation team needed to revamp an experience that traditionally centers around team building and close-contact sessions.

With 325 new first-year and transfer students arriving on campus on Thursday, Aug. 13 and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s restrictions on gatherings, Okello said it was necessary to restructure all of orientation’s large groups sessions by breaking them into multiple, smaller sessions throughout each day—but she is optimistic that this strategy will prove to be successful.

“Having smaller, more intimate groups can be a positive, as orientation can be an overwhelming experience when you’re constantly immersed in large group gatherings. With this restructuring, there is opportunity for more intentional and meaningful community building,” she said.

Students will be participating in more community-centered outdoor activities and online workshops designed to help new students feel welcome and connected to the campus—even when socially distancing.

Even though the orientation structure may differ for this year’s incoming students, the objective—helping students transition from high school to college—remains the same.

“The orientation process is important for students because it serves as the introduction to their collegiate journey. It is where they become familiar with campus resources and Westminster traditions, learn about academic life, and it is where they begin to build new, hopefully lasting, relationships,” Okello said.

In addition to orientation, Okello is overseeing leadership development and strategic planning for diversity and inclusion at Westminster.

“I believe there is purpose in returning back to a place that has shaped a part of your life,” Okello said. “I feel an immense sense of responsibility to serve these students well. I have been graced with the opportunity to help make transformative changes that will positively impact our students.”

Prior to Westminster, Okello served as the director of diversity and inclusion at La Roche University. In 2018 Okello received the FAB 40 Award, presented by The New Pittsburgh Courier to 40 African Americans in Pittsburgh who have demonstrated excellence in their professional lives and the community.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in communication studies from Westminster, Okello earned a master’s in integrated marketing communication from Duquesne University.

Westminster’s orientation activities will take place Aug. 14-16. The orientation schedule is available here.

Pictured above: Westminster College's Associate Dean of Student Affairs Candace Okello '11, right, discusses orientation plans with Gina Vance, vice president for student affairs and dean of students.