Sophie Sonnenfeld, Staff Photographer

The University piloted three new on-campus “mid-orientation” programs focused on the arts, entrepreneurship and individual reflection for incoming first-year students this fall.

LAUNCH, the largest of the three new programs which was geared towards students interested in entrepreneurship, brought in speakers and hosted workshops in Tsai City. Another new program, Yale Reserved, designed for students who enjoy “solitude, low-key events, and time for reflection,” included movie nights and discussions about advocating for oneself. Students who participated in Camp Yale Arts explored the arts scene in New Haven by going to Shakespeare in the Park and visiting the Yale University Art Gallery. 

“Through LAUNCH, I realized how invaluable of an experience it is to be surrounded by inspiring and passionate individuals,” Ruby Lee ’27 told the News. “LAUNCH allowed me to expand my perspectives in entrepreneurship above and beyond the current horizons and to garner insights from prominent leaders in the fields that I would’ve otherwise not easily been exposed to.”

The three new programs bring the total number of “mid-orientation” options up to nine, joining First-Year Outdoor Orientation Trips, FOCUS, Harvest, Cultural Connections, Orientation for International Students and BUILD. These programs were previously called “pre-orientation” programs. The changes to the orientation program offerings come after the University made mid-orientation participation mandatory and free of charge for the class of 2026. 

Camp Yale Arts and Yale Reserved were organized with the help of the Yale University Art Gallery and the Native American Cultural Center, respectively. LAUNCH was coordinated with help from the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and Tsai City. 

Students in Yale Reserved had the opportunity to get tips from professors, learn classroom strategies and develop listening skills during the program’s run.

“Our goal was to provide a program for students that centered skills to develop reflection, rest, communication, and friendship,” Matthew Makomenaw, director of the Native American Cultural Center, wrote to the News. “As a new program we based our activities on personal experience of our counselors while at Yale and relevant research literature.”

LAUNCH organizers told the News that they pitched the idea to the Yale College Dean’s Office last fall, and it was officially approved Dec. 8. The organizers, Grace Gerwe ’25, Seth Goldin ’26 and Teo Dimov ’26 planned the speakers and events for the students.

LAUNCH students heard from speakers including Michael Seibel ’05, the founder of Twitch, and also went on a trip to New York City on the last day of the program. 

“I absolutely loved it,” Gerwe said. “It was so special to me to see something that was just an idea I’d written down over a year ago actually happen and actually impact so many people so positively.” 

All three programs were originally smaller in size, according to Goldin, until 787 incoming students ranked LAUNCH in their top three choices for orientation programs. Over 226 students ranked it as their number one choice.

Eventually, Goldin said, LAUNCH ended up taking in 100 students, including transfer and Eli Whitney students, an expansion from the original 30 to 50 students they had planned to accept. 

“The program is focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, but I wouldn’t think of it as a very pre-professional program,” Goldin said. “The goal is more to show students that there’s an alternative path. We were really excited about this opportunity to create a new Camp Yale program given that it was now mandatory.”

Camp Yale Arts hosted 39 student participants in its inaugural session, and took students on visits to the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Center for British Art and the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media. At the sites, students heard from curators and took part in several art-making activities.

Rebecca Wasserman ’26 and Whitney Toutenhoofd ’25, the two student directors of Camp Yale Arts, told the News that Camp Yale Arts was meant to demystify access to Yale’s museum and art spaces on campus as well as help students bond with one another. 

“I think art spaces can be very intimidating, so it was nice to try to set a tone of inclusivity and community building in spaces that a lot of people find to be exclusionary,” Toutenhoofd said. “A lot of the incoming first years who are assigned to Camp Yale Arts said that they wanted to do it not because they were personally super invested in art, but they just wanted an opportunity to explore those spaces.” 

The addition of the three new programs helped reduce the other programs’ sizes after they were set to face significant increases due to the added pre-orientation participation requirement. Last year, FOCUS hosted over 550 students — more than a third of the class of 2026 — and a significant increase from the 300 students and leaders they hosted the year before.

Last year’s FOCUS leaders said that FOCUS took in the “overflow” of students who did not want to participate in the other Camp Yale options, which were all outdoor activities or centered on a student’s identity. FOCUS directors previously told the News the expansion left them scrambling to handle the influx of students and finding last minute service projects, including one in which a group cleared a local homeless encampment. 

This year, FOCUS had only 285 students in its program, according to FOCUS director Emma Yanai ’25. 

“The other programs were getting a little over-enrolled and it’s just nice to have a variety of choices, so we’re experimenting with different kinds of programs that might appeal to different people,” Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis said. “We’d liked the idea of everybody arriving at once and then selecting among various orientation possibilities, but with 1,650 students, roughly, there were some differences.” 

Because of its popularity, LAUNCH leaders said they plan on working to expand the program for future classes and accommodate more students who want to take part in the program. Similarly, Camp Yale Arts and Yale Reserved say they plan on continuing for future classes. 

“We want every student that wants to do LAUNCH to be able to do LAUNCH,” Goldin told the News. “But that might mean figuring out some different setup for the program, because we had a couple of constraints that limited us in doing that for this year.”

Mid-orientation programs were held Aug. 22 to 26.

TRISTAN HERNANDEZ
Tristan Hernandez covers student policy and affairs for the News. He is also a copy editor and previously reported on student life. Originally from Austin, Texas, he is a sophomore in Pierson College majoring in political science.