MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - Wilderness camping, a hands-on course about architecture and the environment, the art of organic farming and real-life exposure to Vermont’s local politics. These are just a few of the unusual adventures that await the Middlebury College class of 2012 when they set foot on campus for the first time in just a few weeks.

Orientation trips have been a Middlebury tradition for more than 20 years, and for most first-year students the experience provides their first introduction to the community that will become their own for the next four years. This year, in an effort to accommodate as many incoming students as possible, MiddView - an acronym for Middlebury Volunteer Initiatives, Explorations and the Wilderness - has expanded its program to offer a broader range of orientation opportunities. Students, who signed up as early as May to participate, chose from a meditation retreat, a traveling overview of Vermont’s music scene, a firsthand look at alternative energy, a bicycle tour of the Champlain Valley, or a women-only rock climbing trip. Other options include community service in local schools, teen centers or emergency shelters. There is even an “Adventure Sampler” of three different outdoor options for those who cannot make a choice.

Nearly 400 of the incoming 579 students arriving in September are participating - including almost all of the enrolled international students. Beginning on Sunday, Aug. 31, students will spend three days and two nights completely focused on the program of their choice. Each activity is limited to about 8-10 first-year students and two leaders, so the small groups encourage fast friendships. The college recruits more than 130 current students as volunteers to lead the different groups; in very few cases, faculty and staff are involved as well.

Associate Dean of the College Katy Abbott says the new and broader approach to orientation is a direct result of student feedback and demand. “Many of the past incoming first-years wanted very much to participate, but the previous program could only accommodate about half of the incoming class in a typical year. So we went back to the drawing board and made some smart and well-researched changes,” said Abbott. “We want our first-years to feel welcomed and inspired and excited to begin their time here, and MiddView now offers an intensely personal introduction to everything from the Green Mountains to volunteer service to local explorations of Vermont’s cultural landscape.”

According to Middlebury College 2008 graduate Nate Randall, who is one of the organizers, the new and more robust program meets a definite demand among students. “It’s great to see the way the program has grown over the years to include more and more students doing so many different things out in the community,” said Randall. “When I was a first-year, I missed out on the experience because the groups filled up so quickly and there were fewer to choose from.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 3, the MiddView activities will conclude and the entire incoming class of 2012 will gather on campus for the traditional fall orientation, which includes events ranging from small group seminars to class registration to convocation. More information about MiddView and orientation is available online.

Fast Facts about the Middlebury College class of 2012

. 7,823 students applied.
. 667 students hail from 64 countries and 49 states.
. 579 are enrolling in September.
. 88 are enrolling in February.
. 12 percent are international students.
. 23 percent are United States students of color.
. 51 percent are public school graduates.
. 49 percent came from private or parochial schools.
. 72 percent are non-New England residents.
. 94 percent are from out of state.
. 47 percent receive grant assistance, including 71 percent of the international students.
. 52 are in the first generation of their family to attend college.