Working at a small school definitely has it has challenges, but one of the things that I love about working at a small school is how personal you can make experiences for students. For our New Student Orientation program, which happens during the three days prior to classes starting in the fall, we typically welcome anywhere from 160-185 incoming students. Now, I know that many of you are thinking, well, that’s nothing compared to my institution – but I’ll go further into detail, to explain that we do just as many, if not more things, to acclimate and welcome the new class each year, and just because our numbers are smaller, doesn’t mean that we don’t lay out the red carpet and provide similar programs, events, services and resources as other institutions.
For this year’s incoming class, we changed things up quite a bit. If you aren’t familiar with our population or our campus, let me give you some background. We are a small, Catholic college, in New Haven, CT. We have more commuter students than residential students, most students are holding down at least one or more jobs to help pay for school and we have a large number of first generation college students. Athletics is a large part of our campus culture, with almost 40% of our students playing at least one varsity sport. And lastly, over 70% of our students come from the state of CT.
One of the most exciting things that we did this year for orientation, was to change the schedule completely, to make it more accommodating for our commuter students. We have some students that rely on public transportation to get to and from school every day and some do drive themselves. Many of our commuter students come to campus just for classes, and leave for other obligations – those might be babysitting/caring for a family member, working at their job or needing to study. This makes orientation interesting because so many students don’t view it as important enough to take off from work to be there and participate. I find myself having so many conversations with students as they are admitted, explaining to them, how important orientation is and that they will really benefit from attending.
Changing the schedule so that commuter students could come to orientation during the daytime, and still leave in the late afternoon or evening if they had a job or other obligations, made it more feasible for our students. We still had activities in the evening, but they were the social events that weren’t required. Our commuter students appreciated our accommodating schedule, so that they could still learn all that was being shared during orientation – such as the many workshops and programs that all of us deem important to be a part of the program.
One of the other things that we do for orientation each year that excites the new students and their families, is that we decorate the entire Campus Center (where check in is for orientation) and have a theme to orientation each year that somehow relates to their college journey. This year’s theme, “Albertus in Wonderland”, was a take on the story of Alice in Wonderland, and her journey down the rabbit hole (starting a new chapter of their lives), the people she met along the way (all of the resources on campus as well as new friends), and what she learns on her journey (through her experiences inside and outside the classroom). We created different themed hallways throughout the building and created a fun atmosphere that was welcoming and engaging.
One of my favorite moments was when we saw a student and their parent looking at the decorations, and they noticed the student’s name on the wall (we had decorated the hallways with playing cards and chess pieces with each incoming students names on them). They were so excited, and even commented on how personal that was to see their name, and to know that Albertus is a close knit family, their home away from home. This is a big impact that a small school can make on a first time college student.
Once orientation is over, we really try to keep the students engaged, mostly through our weekly events, conversations with their Student Orientation Counselors, and using the Facebook pages that were created for the class, to help them talk to each other, but also to feel comfortable to reach out to any students or administrators that they may have questions for or don’t know where to get the answers. It’s been a great tool for us and a great resource for the students!
This post is part of our #AfterOrientation series, which focuses on what various institutions do when the buzz and bustle of orientation dies down. We will learn about programs, events, and initiatives that continue the support and excitement for the new students as they start their higher education adventure. For more information, check out the intro post by Juhi Bhatt. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!