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Learning by Leading: Opening Days Coordinator

by Marketing & Communications,

Campus employment at Willamette University offers students more than a chance to make money.

In the “Learning by Leading” series, we talk to student employees about the real-world experience they gain and the interpersonal communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills they develop on the job. 

Emmy Obenauf
Emmy Obenauf BA’23

Name: Emmy Obenauf BA‘23

Major: English: Creative writing and civic communication and media

Title: 2022 Opening Days program coordinator 

What were your main job duties? The role is a year-long position, including the summer, so it changes a bit as the year progresses. 

In the fall, I hired four lead team members who I assigned to certain committee events and oversaw their progress. During the year, I facilitated weekly meetings where we planned specific aspects of the program together, and it was really cool to update and implement policies and learning outcomes for leaders and incoming students. With the help of the lead team, I also hired, trained and managed a team of 54 orientation leaders. 

OD move in day leaders
From left: Kyra McHugh '25, Obenauf and Analiese Terrazas '23 at the check-in tables during move-in day 2021. McHugh and Terrazas were members of the lead team that year.

Over the summer, I worked with staff members and other student leaders on the program schedule. It was a unique opportunity to help design programming that better includes and addresses the needs of all types of students. I’ve been involved with Opening Days since my first year at Willamette, so it was rewarding to implement changes where I knew they were needed. I also worked on leader training and responsibilities, staff meetings, the move-in/check-in process, program events — and all of the complicated logistics that accompany them. 

Throughout this entire process, it was really important to me to create a balance between work and fun so team leaders could bond and work together better. During training, I planned a beach trip for one day and a leader “bingo” with prizes. I also had fun selecting the shirt colors for the Opening Days leaders. 

During the program, I ran around a lot! It was my job to make sure all of the leaders knew what to do, where to go, and help them troubleshoot any difficulties that popped up. I also ensured events were properly prepped and ready to start at their scheduled time. There was definitely a lot of adapting to last minute changes to make sure everything ran smoothly and solving issues as effectively and quickly as possible. 

OD leaders
From left: KC Fejeran '25, M Caputo '25, Obenauf and Jacob Plax '25, all of whom were in the Opening Days group in 2021. Plax is a member of the lead team for Opening Days 2023.

What leadership skills did your role teach you? I learned and built upon so many different skills that it’s hard to narrow them down. But these are the most important: 

  • Team management and conflict resolution
  • Leadership and public speaking
  • Training development and facilitation
  • Organization and time management (that was a big one) 
  • Empathy and patience

After working in this position, I decided to go to graduate school for student affairs administration with the goal of working in higher education student activities. I’ve worked in event planning in a variety of settings, but this was by far the most rewarding experience I’ve had. All of these skills are incredibly valuable. 

Why is this a great job? Being Opening Days coordinator changed what I planned to do after graduation. Regardless of what field you’re in and what you want to do for a future career, this position will teach you so much about yourself, what you value and how to work alongside others. In addition, you learn a lot of practical, transferable skills. 

Name one surprising thing about working there. How sad I was when it was over! Opening Days genuinely changed my life and made me a better person, so it was really sad when the position was complete.

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