Written by on September 19, 2019

Week of Welcome: A look back at a Cal Poly tradition

Class of 2023, welcome to the 62nd annual Week of Welcome!

In Special Collections and Archives, located in Kennedy Library, there are many items documenting WOWs of the past. Maybe one day you will also be recorded in the archives?! Read on to learn more about the evolution of Week of Welcome…

In 1957, Cal Poly rolled out the official “Welcome Week” orientation program, but it was not the first event designed to introduce new incoming students to Cal Poly.

In 1951, there was an optional two-day “Round Up Camp” in Cambria where new students could meet Cal Poly veterans and receive information about the campus and culture. It was here that the “rooter’s cap” tradition began.¹

New students at orientation program held at Camp Ocean Pines in Cambria, CA, circa 1950s. https://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/rekl-25275

Students wearing “rooter’s hats” sitting at dining tables at Week of Welcome Orientation at Camp Ocean Pines, Cambria, circa 1950s. https://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/rekl-25272

An original WOW cap resides in Cal Poly’s Special Collections and Archives. Based on our alumni stories, people were able to tell who was a WOW leader and who was a “WOWie” by their cap; if the hat was yellow side out, the student was a “WOWie,” and if it was green side out, they were a leader.

In 1954, Cal Poly offered a campus-based orientation program for students who could not attend the Cambrian camp, but it was not until 1957 that the idea of an entire Week of Welcome on campus came to fruition. The camp continued, and the two orientation programs, affectionately referred to as “Camp” and “Campus”, existed simultaneously until 1972.

Two pages from a scrapbook. There are several photos on the pages that show students in different activities such as going up to the Cal Poly P. The photos are dated 1965.

Scrapbooks such as this one from 1958 to 1966 capture the scenes and events of early Week of Welcomes. View the scrapbook in its entirety here: https://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/rekl-84779New Student and Transition Programs, University Archives, Special Collections and Archives. 

In 1970, Bill Walters, WOW advisor extraordinaire, took the reigns. Under his guidance, WOW flourished. Focusing on the campus program, he set out to “help new students adapt to an environment away from home and also help students’ productivity in schoolwork and college life in general.”²

Students at WoW booth, circa 1970s-1980s. University Archives Photograph Collection, https://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/rekl-4469

Photo of a schedule of events for Week of Welcome, showing the days Sunday through Friday with a list of events scheduled for each day.

Week of Welcome schedule of events, circa 1976. What has changed, what is still the same? University Archives Photograph Collection, https://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/rekl-84953.


A photo of someone's hand holding an opened, single-fold document with a plastic flexidisk resting inside.

In the 1970s and 1980s, incoming students received a unique invitation to Week of Welcome– a Eva-tone Soundsheet (also known as a flexi disc or phonosheet), with a custom invitation from Cal Poly students and KCPR DJs including Weird Al. New Student and Transition Programs, University Archives, Special Collections and Archives. 

In the 1990s, WOW shifted gears again. Instead of focusing on solely orienting students with their surroundings, Walter’s successors, Ken Barclay and Phil Bailey integrated academic seminars as well as social issues and cultural awareness seminars that emphasized cultural diversity and tolerance for others.³

Week of Welcome orientation meeting in Mott Gym, 2003. University Archives Photograph Collection, https://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/rekl-4484

In 2016, the Week of Welcome became integrated with the first day of classes. WOW activities paused for Thursday and Friday classes, and picked back up Friday evening to continue through the weekend, and this model has continued to the present.⁴

Learn more about present-day Week of Welcome at the New Students & Transition Programs website.

  1. Fall Quarter Report, 1957. UA630.07, Box 1. Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
  2. Lisa Iruguin, “36 Years of WOW: Poly’s weekend campout has become a nationally-recognized orientation program,” Mustang News, Sept. 13, 1993, https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/studentnewspaper/4494/.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Brian Robbins and Dylan Ring, “WOW continues into first day of classes, unclear if it will be the same schedule next year,” Mustang News, September 29, 2016, https://mustangnews.net/wow-schedule-continues-first-day-classes.

Read more on back to school and university archives.

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