The Tightknit Community of Character U
Each August as orientation winds down, one moment always stays with Mary Bushner. First years have just posed for their final photo op—a class picture on the hill—and Bushner and the orientation staff watch as the newest bulldogs make their way toward the residence halls.
“It’s a sad moment because orientation is over,” she says, “but there is some relief in knowing that we did our job and now the first years get to go and make their own DeSales experience.”
Bushner ’23, a nursing major, has spent the majority of her DeSales experience in the Character U program—first as a mentor and captain, and most recently as the orientation student coordinator, helping to plan for 2022. The process, Bushner explains, is much more involved than most might think.
“A lot of people think that planning for orientation starts in May when graduation ends,” she says. “But it’s a yearlong process: planning for the next year begins the moment that orientation finishes.”
Bushner and the orientation team began with the basics: breaking down what went well from 2021 and what they could improve upon. They talked through the different events and speakers, deciding if everything was placed properly.
Things really kicked into high gear the following spring, with Bushner and the orientation team selecting the orientation theme. Bushner and the staff of assistants and videographers even spent the entire summer on campus—contacting speakers and vendors, communicating with captains and mentors, and mapping out every last detail of scheduling and training.
Bushner (pictured above) credits Character U with teaching her leadership and organizational skills. She says working side by side with students from different backgrounds and those she has little in common with has made her more understanding and empathetic toward others. Perhaps the biggest learning lesson of all: accepting that things don’t always go as planned.
“I think throwing the rulebook out the window sometimes does not hurt. You plan for everything to go right, but sometimes it does not work out that way. You need to roll with the punches and really lean on your team when you need them. Without that communication or trust between the different roles, it all falls apart.”
In 2021, when Bushner was still a captain, the orientation staff planned for a restriction-free, non-COVID event. But, at the last minute, those plans changed—some events had to be scrapped and large crowds weren’t allowed.
The experience led Bushner and the rest of the orientation team to create what she calls a wonderful blend of new and traditional events: like keeping the block scheduling for lunch that they instituted during the pandemic and adding fun games to give first years some down time between certain events.
Bushner estimates that she put in hundreds of hours during her time as orientation student coordinator—all while being a full-time student and holding down another job. Still, she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“I love the sense of community that Character U gives me,” she says. “I love the second family that it gave me, and I enjoy being around people who are willing to give themselves to help others. I think that really speaks volumes for what Character U truly is.”
While a new orientation team and student coordinator have taken over for 2023, Bushner is still on hand to help when needed and to make orientation 2023 even bigger than last year.
“This staff wants to be better each year,” she says. “We’re not okay with hitting the ceiling; we want to go above that.”