a screenshot from the Whitman College campus as presented in Gather Town.
This year's virtual Summer Fly-In was hosted on Gather Town, a program that allows students to travel around a virtual campus, visiting specific offices and areas for guides to resources, mini sessions with professors, and ice-breaker games.

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For the last seven years, Whitman has hosted a Summer Fly-In Program for incoming students—primarily first-years, plus a few transfers—who are the first generation in their family to attend college and/or students who come from a working class household. The program aims to make the students familiar with the resources available to them at Whitman and to ease them into the transition to college life.

Juli Dunn, senior associate dean of students, considers the Fly-In to be integral programming in allowing students to feel like they have level footing at Whitman before the school year starts, which can further propel them into future success.

“Summer Fly-In students are heavily represented in all positions of leadership on this campus,” Dunn says. “Two of the last three ASWC presidents are Fly-In alumni. You see them all over campus and that’s powerful. These are our future leaders.” 

Virtual Fly-In Takes Off

Typically, Summer Fly-In students are provided flights to Walla Walla to meet their peers on campus and experience Whitman in person. For the past two years, the program has transitioned to an online setting in light of the coronavirus pandemic—but the virtual setting didn’t stop the program from being a real success, says Dunn.

“This summer was a blast,” she says. “We hosted it in Gather Town, which gave us some different options in terms of games, interactivity and building community.”

Gather Town is an online space that mimics in-person interaction with customized avatars that can move around a virtual recreation of the college’s campus. Within the system, each cohort of students had the opportunity to visit offices and departments that could be helpful resources during their time at Whitman, including the Student Engagement Center for information on securing jobs; the Academic Resource Center, which provides academic mentoring; and the Financial Aid Office. 

Additionally, the incoming students were able to visit the office of one professor from each academic division, getting insight on what they could expect when taking classes in the humanities and arts; social sciences; and sciences and mathematics.

Students also had the opportunity to communicate their vulnerabilities and fears during discussions on imposter syndrome and their futures in college and beyond. 

While the virtual program was a success, Dunn says she hopes in-person Summer Fly-In programming will take off again next summer. “Although there might always be a space and need to offer a virtual option for students who cannot fly to campus,” she adds.