I’ve seen many orientation varieties throughout the years. In some cases, orientations are exciting, fresh starts for students who can’t wait to begin college. Some want to reinvent themselves, and others are following in the footsteps of siblings or friends who’ve had rave reviews about their experiences and made “best friends for life” in college. Personally, my orientation was one of the more nerve-wracking experiences I’d had. I was an out-of-towner headed to another state’s flagship institution. Naturally, all the kids who went to the same high school sat together in the dining hall for lunch, and I found myself wandering around between tables as seemingly the only Mainer in a group of New Hampshire-ites. Luckily, the one other Maine student rescued me (thanks, Ray!) and my orientation experiences ultimately evolved into an extremely productive college experience.
For first generation students, non-traditional students, transfer students, and many others, orientation can be an existential struggle. Some students don’t have a Ray to rescue them in the dining hall, or the family support to prepare them for college logistics. They’re flying solo from day one. These students are facing an uphill battle, while the other students with whom they’re interacting on campus may not understand their backgrounds.
This year, I’ve observed a huge push among colleges to reinvigorate inclusion campaigns. I’ve even found while working with campuses this summer that sessions discussing campus resources, respect, equality, safety, and other important issues were at the forefront of orientation programming. I was impressed, as just a few years ago the logistics (student IDs, registering for classes, choosing dining plans, etc.) seemed to be of higher priority than more holistic views of the student experience.
My OrcaTV campaigns, and even just the submissions I’ve seen come through our portals, have reflected the change in paradigms. At Ripon College, I saw a beautiful graphic illustrating Ripon’s Diversity Mission Statement submitted through our portal. At Marshall University, I worked with the marketing and communications team to create profiles of orientation leaders. The “get to know your orientation leader” section provided incoming students with biographical information that would hopefully encourage students with shared majors or interests to reach out. Our new, ambitious commuter student ambassador Lauren at Pace University wanted to create a “Places to Know on Campus” campaign to orient new students to campus, and Manhattan in general. Of course, because Lauren is an all-star, this project was in addition to orientation leader profiles with funny and thoughtful tips for the incoming class. Lauren collaborated with different groups including the Center for Community Action and Research, the Office for Student Success, the Counseling Center, the Office of Disability Service, and the LGBTQA and Social Justice Welcome Center. While spotlighting the Office of Student Success, Lauren emphasized that the office has a therapy dog – using the “broccoli and cake” methodology, or combining engaging, student-centric information with the important information students need to be successful at Pace.
I’ve also noticed colleges and universities encouraging students to introduce themselves on social media before the first week of classes. At the University of Texas at Dallas, students used the hashtag #WhosWhoatUTD to share fun facts about themselves and create networks over the summer. The University of New Hampshire sent admitted students envelopes including a banner with #New2UNH labeled in big letters. Admitted students could post photos with the hashtag sharing their excitement about attending UNH in the fall, introducing themselves and allowing the current students who saw the social media feed of #New2UNH posts to familiarize themselves with incoming students. I’d assume it didn’t hurt enrollment numbers, either. I heard great feedback about my OrcaTV initiative to run spotlights of First Generation students in an “I am First Gen” campaign, inspired by articles and research highlighting inclusion campaigns that personalize students’ experiences and create pride and community among first generation students.
In general, I’ve seen that messaging around orientations and student success is changing. These changes have absolutely been enabled by social media and an influx of dynamic video content. Every campus has its own flavor for orientation, but gone are the days of standing in stuffy hallways for hours while registering for classes. Instead, campuses of all shapes and sizes are personalizing experiences in unprecedented ways.