With the school year just getting under way, and first years only recently returned from their AESOP, many current seniors may be feeling nostalgic about their own AESOP experiences. From incredible outdoor excursions to lasting friendships, AESOP has been setting the tone for incoming first-years for decades. Its role in the larger orientation program has changed slightly since the class of 2018 were first years, however.

Unlike current first years, AESOP was the very first thing that members of the class of 2018 experienced at Bates; preceding any other orientation events. The shift to the current schedule, where AESOP trips start after a few days of orientation, began with the class of 2019. The Bates College website now identifies AESOP as a chance to “take a breather” from orientation programming.

Katie Hartnett ’18, one of this year’s AESOP head coordinators, has experienced the trips in both time slots; as an AESOPer herself four years ago, when trips still kicked off orientation, and now as one of its organizers. While she “loved that AESOP was the first thing [she] experienced at Bates,” she thinks the program can be successful whenever it comes in the orientation schedule.

“Forming shared experiences, strong relationships with upperclassmen role models, and mini-communities on campus is what AESOP is all about. I think it is an incredibly valuable part of orientation, and it doesn’t lose its magic being sandwiched between orientation events,” said Hartnett.

Hartnett noted that both schedules come with their own set of challenges. With the current schedule, leaders sometimes “run into situations where AESOPers have hooked up before or have formed cliques that translate to their trips.” However she also thinks that first-years not attending an AESOP trip in years past may have felt excluded.

“[With orientation first] If one is not going on AESOP, they still get to feel the same excitement and welcome as everyone else.”

For the sophomores and juniors involved in AESOP, a mid-orientation trip may not seem as unique, since it’s what they experienced themselves as first years. Mike Somma ’19, an AESOP leader this year for a hiking trip in Acadia National Park, noticed that some of the first years on his trip already knew each other, but didn’t run into any of the negative situations described by Hartnett.

“Two girls on the trip were both on the cross country team and they were definitely friends. It didn’t really affect the group dynamic at all though.”

According to the Bates College website, AESOP has been around for over thirty years. It is currently the only student-run, outdoor orientation program in the country. The program offers trips for incoming first years of all experience levels in the outdoors to locations across Maine and New Hampshire. Trip activities vary widely, from yoga and community service, to backpacking, rock climbing, and kayaking.

While there are certainly pros and cons to both ways of scheduling, the importance of AESOP trips is not in doubt. Whether hiking the Appalachian Trail, kayaking the coast, or doing community service around Lewiston, incoming first-years have been treated to some of their first Bates memories on AESOP trips. Though the program has gone through changes since the class of 2018 first stepped on campus, it remains a vital part of the Bates experience.