“New Student Orientation” is a familiar concept in the world of academia. When starting graduate school, students know that they can expect information, resources, and tools; gatherings, sessions, introductions to people and places that will be meaningful to their academic experience.

But how do we orient and connect when students and classmates are joining at different times, from different places, and with varying degrees of ease related to technology and access?

These questions have shaped much of our work within the Office of Students and Alumni(OSA) in recent months and years. I would imagine that questions like these have shaped your experience as well.

Some of you in the 2022 cohort started taking classes this winter or spring. Others have just enrolled and are figuring out how to access student email, wondering where to get textbooks, and are swimming in unknowns, wondering what an online or an on-campus classroom will be like. Some are also supporting children starting school while you prepare to start school yourself. Wherever you are today, however you are feeling about starting classes in September, we value your presence, our relationship with you, and your relationships with one another. Our connections to one another will be one of the ways that we ground ourselves and orient to the learning and formation we seek to do.

Thus, opportunities are woven throughout the various phases of new student orientation, including your Frameworks & Intersections course in Populi, for first-year students to begin getting to know one another. For many years we’ve had a tradition of asking our incoming cohort to introduce themselves creatively using a simple sheet of paper. Playfully titled Who Am I? this non-graded assignment is a way of collectively representing the people, perspectives, and stories that make up your incoming cohort.

During the fall term, we hang these compositions in an art installation in our Community Gallery on the 3rd floor of the school building. Afterward, we gather these pages into a portfolio and archive them alongside more than a decade of cohorts who have participated in this assignment. We return to these portfolios every year as we are sending our graduating cohort, inviting them to look back at the person they were when they started and to see the host of alumni that surround them as a great cloud of witnesses to the journey we share, past, present, and future. These pages are a cherished part of our community’s story.

How to complete the Who Am I? assignment:

Using any media of your choice, answer the question: Who are you?

You may be as creative as you’d like: collage, paint, sketch, color, write a poem, a song, a story, include your picture or a picture of those people, places, or things you love. . . or don’t. In the case of a song or poem you are free to make an audio recording of yourself but please also prepare an image that connects to it, whether it is the lyrics or some other visual representation of you that we can print and hang with the collection in the third floor gallery

This assignment is part of your second lesson, available to view on August 24th and due by Thursday, September 8th in your Frameworks & Intersections course. You will be able to begin taking in and interacting with each other’s work through these creative pieces as you upload them in Populi. We will also print and hang the visual pieces in the third-floor gallery for you to see and interact with when you come to campus. And after the fall term, we will gather and keep these pieces in the portfolio archives alongside past cohorts.

If you have questions about this assignment, feel free to post them in the Frameworks & Intersections course or email me directly at rshirley@www.punepe.net.

For a bit of inspiration, we’ve included a smattering of Who Am I? pages from past cohorts below.

collage woman in forest with birds and lanternwatercolor landscape