The Blue Crew

Students embark as orientation leaders to get ready for summer sessions
Photo by Erin Sattler

Long before summer, before the first incoming student arrives on campus for orientation, the Blue Crew chants.

“Everybody remembers ‘Bulldog Rumble,’ right?” says Taylor Heise, the 18-year-old sophomore from Burlington, N.C., who serves as head orientation leader for the team of 20 students. “It’s the same one we did last week.” 

The group claps and cheers as if to welcome a parade marching beside them along the tiled Karpen Hall corridor. When the last giggle subsides, Heise calls the class into order and explains another spirited chant. 

In her other classes, Heise studies psychology and creative writing. But every Wednesday during the spring semester, she trains to be a leader. Not only a leader of orientees, but a leader worthy of directing her peers.  

“It requires an incredible amount of preparation and follow-through to be the head orientation leader,” says Stephanie Franklin, the Blue Crew’s supervisor and UNC Asheville’s director of Transition and Parent Programs. “Taylor’s able to clearly communicate what’s happening with a variety of different groups on campus. She has really taken the responsibility seriously and is doing a phenomenal job.” 

Functionally, embark orientation season is a marathon running the entire month of June. Freshman orientation sessions are two-day affairs, which last from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on day one and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on day two, plus a one-day session for transfer students. Two orientation leaders handle every group, and these orientation teams are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the newest Bulldogs. Like all marathon athletes, the Blue Crew trains all year round. 

“In addition to the class, they go to a conference every year in March to learn how to apply certain skills to help them become better leaders,” Franklin says. “It’s much more of an involved process than most people realize.”

In class, the student-leaders study the history of the orientation program and what it means to be a leader. They prepare chants for midyear events like homecoming. For orientation leaders hired between June seasons, the class provides newbies, like sophomore Torey Todd, a safe space to cut their teeth before the intensity of summer. 

Todd, a 20-year-old sophomore studying biology from Black Mountain, N.C., says he’s no stranger to being a leader despite never leading an orientation group. He’s served as patrol leader in Boy Scouts and filled a leadership role in his high school marching band. Still, he says the Orientation Leader program offers new challenges for someone experienced with being in charge. 

“They say some people are born leaders and others are not, but that’s not always true,” Todd says. “People can become strong leaders through whatever trials they’ve had. The biggest issue for me is learning how to lead in a team.”

Heise says she wants the Blue Crew to resemble a family by the time the first orientees arrive in June, and, according to Todd, her effort is paying off.

“We can all be leaders alone, but being leaders together is the big goal,” Todd says. “We’re getting together every Wednesday night and we’re becoming friends, but we’re also becoming coworkers. We’re developing an understanding for how we lead and how our peers lead. We strengthen ourselves by learning our weaknesses.” 

Heise says she remembers her first class being informative, but nowhere near as transformative as her first orientation season. She says her family has remarked on how much more extroverted her role has made her. 

“I remember standing by the flagpole in the center of campus for four hours straight,” Heise says. “I just stood there answering questions and giving people directions. It really drew me out of my shell and was unlike anything I’d really experienced before. At home, I lived on a farm far away from everybody I knew.”

Heise says her transformation during orientation is fitting, especially because orientation bookends the monumental life shift of going to a university.

“I see orientation as a way for students to realize that their entire life is about to change,” Heise says. “They are about to enter a new part of their life which they’re probably not expecting to be as dramatic of a change as it is … UNC Asheville is school as school should be.”