New changes to Pioneer Success Institute aim to help freshmen smoothly adjust to campus life and atmosphere

Photo by Morgan Fries

By GELSEY PLAZA /// Senior Staff Writer

THIS YEAR, Pioneer Success Institute (PSI) underwent some curriculum changes that coordinators hope will benefit the incoming class as they transition into the Lewis & Clark atmosphere. PSI serves as a complement to New Student Orientation. In this six-week seminar series, incoming students obtain support in order to have a smooth and successful transition into the LC community, as well as learn about the various resources they can visit for academic success, wellness, leadership opportunities and cultural competency.

One aspect that has changed is the diversity experience. The diversity session now looks at power and responsibility. Furthermore, in addition to looking at groups of people in the U.S. that have more power and groups of people who have less, PSI will also look at ways in which those in power may choose to be more responsible in their awareness of privilege identity. To explore this topic, PSI has created an activity which sets into motion an experience of how we can move forward to win and watch others with less power have difficulty achieving a goal.

Another change to PSI is the wellness aspect. Last year for the wellness week, students could either walk the labyrinth or take a hike in Tryon Creek. However, these activities were done during the PSI session, so scheduling of these experiences could be messy. This year, there will be many activities scheduled over several weeks. Students will be able to select one that feels like a good “wellness” activity for them. Options will include yoga, meditation, a hike, the labyrinth walk and mandala coloring, among others. Associate Director of the Career Center and PSI Facilitator Adonica De Vault thinks this will be a better way for students to value the importance of taking care of mental, spiritual, physical and emotional health.

De Vault’s favorite session is the Leadership for Social Change where groups will partake in the Social Justice Tour on campus.

“We are on a small campus and there are so many aspects of history making moments symbolized on parts of campus,” De Vault said. “I am always surprised at how I experience these [historical] markers, many of which I lived through in other areas of the country. [In 1970] LC students and some professors lowered the flagpole to half-mast as a sign of mourning and upside down as a sign of discontentment with the American government [in response to the National Guard shooting during a Vietnam War protest at Kent State]. The flagpole at LC continues to be a central place for activism on campus. That’s why it stands out for me as a particularly important place on the Social Justice Walk. ”

De Vault enjoys being a PSI Facilitator because it gives her a different way of meeting students.

“I have the chance of building relationships with students in a cohort of 26,” De Vault said. “[I] get to see how their relationships [grow] with one another.”

Regarding the PSI changes, co-facilitator Jackson Thein ’18 thinks that these changes will benefit incoming students by creating a fostering environment where participants will become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“Instead of singling students out in the PSI class, we hope that these changes will allow students to personally reflect on bias and privilege in their own lives while learning about these topics as a group of first-year students,” Thein said.

Thein’s favorite PSI session is the very first one. While not much material is covered in the first session, Thein got his first glance at the students and was able to watch them as they start to bond with the group just minutes into the session. While it can be incredibly awkward at first, Thein was amazed to see the transformations that students underwent during the six weeks as they become more comfortable within the group.

Thein likes serving as a PSI student co-facilitator because he loves seeing the students transition into both campus and academic life at LC. When Thein was a freshman, his lead facilitator created a welcoming environment.

“I see it as my duty now to do the same for other new students of the college,” Thein said. “Through this inspiration and the changes to the program, I am looking forward to a successful semester of PSI!”

PSI co-facilitator Anais Gurrola ’19 enjoys giving back to the school that has helped her succeed, as well as improve parts of the school that have been hard for her and others. As De Vault was Gurrola’s lead facilitator last year, as well as her lead facilitator partner this year, Gurrola feels like she is going full circle with helping students make a meaningful connection to LC staff and professors.

Gurrola’s favorite PSI sessions were the social justice tour and the labyrinth walk.

“[I liked these since both] involved going outside of the classroom,” Gurrola said. “I have problems sitting down for long periods of time, so anytime I could go outside, I loved it.  Both experiences were interesting.  [In the social justice tour, I learned] about past students taking a stand.  [That] was so cool to hear about.”

Associate Dean of Students for Student Engagement, Title IX Deputy Coordinator and PSI Coordinator Cathy Busha thinks that the PSI changes will benefit students by providing specific ways for them to maximize their four years at LC.

“By sharing information during PSI, students will know more about the co-curricular activities and opportunities available beyond the classroom,” Busha said. “[For example], Janet Steverson, the new Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, will visit each PSI section to share how to get involved to help make LC a campus that is inclusive and welcoming for everyone. Additionally, Study Abroad will meet with every section of PSI, so students can get accurate information to begin planning their trip(s). We redesigned many of the sessions to allow for students to use and demonstrate their strong critical thinking and dialogue skills.”

If current PSI students have feedback on how to strengthen PSI, Busha welcomes it – please email her at to set up a time for you to meet or talk. 

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