START leaders aim to help incoming students navigate opportunities

Portrait of START Senior Program Leader, Heather Hunt. Hunt and the other START leaders are working to help facilitate the transition for incoming students as part of the START 2021 orientation program.

Cara Nixon, News Contributor

Tori Kekoa-Albert, a START leader and third-year kinesiology student, experienced the importance of a warm welcome when she went through START her freshman year. 

Originally from O’ahu, Hawaii, Kekoa-Albert was terrified of leaving home and attending OSU before her START orientation. 

“The START leaders during my orientation here at home were super warm and welcoming, giving me a great deal of peace and even excitement for the new transition,” Kekoa-Albert explained in an email. “Due to this, I wanted to make sure I had a chance to make this huge transition for new incoming students just as welcoming, smooth and exciting.”

All Oregon State University students experience START—whether in person or online, the orientation program is the first step into college life. Right there to guide students are START leaders. 

Heather Hunt, START’s senior program leader, describes it like this: “START is your first opportunity to see all of your other opportunities.”

Hunt, who is entering her fifth year as a double major in elementary education and human development and family sciences, has been with START the longest out of the entire staff. She began working with New Student Programs and Family Outreach in September 2018 as an office assistant and eventually worked her way up to senior program leader. 

Currently, Hunt leads parent and family programming as well as customer service response. 

“I equally love getting to interact with new students and families as I do getting to interact with START leaders,” Hunt said.

START staff are the first to welcome new OSU students—a task which Hunt considers “special.”

As not only an out-of-state student but also a first-generation student, Kekoa-Albert feels well equipped for her role and feels her unique perspectives give her more understanding of incoming students. 

Now as a START leader, Kekoa-Albert’s favorite part of her job is interacting with so many new people and making them feel welcomed on OSU’s campus. 

In contrast to Kekoa-Albert, Senior START Leader and fourth-year history and education student Addison Reukauf has lived in Corvallis, Ore. since middle school. 

“I feel pretty connected to Corvallis and the community here since I’ve lived here for so long,” Reukauf said in an email. 

Reukauf was nominated to apply to be a START leader by a faculty member during her second year at OSU. She had already been working as a resident assistant, which she enjoyed because it allowed her to connect with students and help them through college.

“I felt that being a START leader would be a great way to continue this rewarding experience of helping students and families,” Reukauf said.

Now, Reukauf works as a senior START leader, which means she works more behind the scenes to help build programming for students. 

“I want to get students excited to attend Oregon State and pave this new path in their lives,” Reukauf said. 

START is being hosted online this year, but Hunt said staff has still found ways to connect with students via flexible scheduling options, smaller groups and experience groups, which are groups themed by experiences or cultural identities. 

Despite its virtual format, Kekoa-Albert, Hunt and Reukauf all said START is still extremely valuable for incoming students. 

Reukauf pointed out the value of incoming students being able to connect with current students through START. 

“Current students can provide insight on their own experiences and the experiences of their peers which can definitely benefit any incoming student,” Reukauf said.

Hunt also said START gives incoming students an opportunity to experience college before even starting. 

“I know I was so excited to come to OSU, and I loved hearing all about everyone’s experiences,” Reukauf said. “It allowed me to see myself succeeding at OSU. I hope that other new students can feel the same way during their START session.”