You’re in a dark auditorium surrounded by people you don’t know. A bright light shines on the stage in front of you and you hear a voice. “College is a lot different than high school…” You groan and think not another “bore-ientation” skit. “I know one thing; I have to start taking more responsibility for myself and my choices…getting my degree depends on me…I need to be in the driver’s seat and do this for myself.”
You listen to the character on the stage and can’t help but resonate with what he’s saying.
That’s what we were hoping for!
In 2013, we reinvented our New Student Orientation model and over the last three years we have refined it to include the following key elements:
1. We hired Peer Mentors as Orientation Leaders – The students in these leadership roles are crucial to connecting new students to campus resources and their peers. Participation in this free program exponentially grew when new students saw these peer leaders in action early on.
2. We developed customized scripted skits that emphasize student responsibility – Scripts were created based on our institution’s ten tenets of student responsibility. We believe these tenets exemplify expectations of successful students.
3. We combined efforts with advisement and registration, creating special Student Orientation, Advisement and Registration (SOAR) days throughout the summer – Based on student feedback, we needed to minimize how many times students were asked to come to campus prior to the first day of classes. Additionally, there was widespread confusion regarding “registration for classes” being the same thing as “orientation” to the college.
4. We combined our Parent & General Student Orientation programs – Previously parents could opt to attend an evening orientation separate from their new student(s). By combining programs, we created tracks for each population while also emphasizing parents as partners in their student’s education.
Turnover in student staffing drives our process.
Having a student population for typically only two years means second year students are only in the leadership position for one. The reality is we are training our current peer mentors while simultaneously recruiting the next generation.
Collaboration between campus departments is essential to success.
A network of personnel from Counseling & Career Services, Campus Life, Residence Life, Division of Student Development, the Theater Department, Buildings & Grounds, as well as faculty, make our model possible. Community college initiatives truly rely on cross-functional teamwork and the connection between colleagues.
Our program is still evolving and change will only make it better.
Some of our working challenges include limited time for program sessions (2-3 hours per orientation program), we don’t currently mandate attendance, students are sometimes admitted after the last orientation session concludes, and our institution has multiple campuses with different needs. Solutions to these challenges are already being piloted. For example, we recently launched our new online orientation platform which begins to respond to some of these issues.
Writing scripts that reflected our student population meant really knowing our students.
Our characters are based on student experiences we’ve witnessed or advised. To make these characters come to life we needed their stories to reflect reality.
We’ve come to appreciate the value of assessment.
Specifically, we’ve been able to improve our model based on multiple sources of feedback. We’ve also refocused our intended learning outcomes to ensure understanding and preparedness.
Your mind drifts back to the illuminated the character on stage. His words settle into your mind.
“So I guess I have to look at my first semester of college as a crossroad. I can choose which direction I want to go and hopefully find which path will lead me to success. ‘Cause that’s what college is all about, right? Finding success? I know that’s what I want.”
That’s what we want, too.
This post is part of our #comm_college series, which aims to explore experiences developing community college policies and processes that impact the recruitment, retention, and completion of community college students. What human interest stories do you have of community college student resilience, persistence, and success? What about a stories of transition, challenge, or transformation? A variety of SA pros working in student affairs at a community college will share their insights. For more information, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
This post was co-authored by Janelle Gray and Kim Irland.
Janelle Grey is triple threat. She’s a counselor/academic advisor, adjunct faculty and project manager for retention. The Peer Mentor program is under her prevue. Janelle received her associate’s degree is Social Science from Jamestown Community College, her bachelor’s in education from SUNY Fredonia and her M.S. Ed in counselor education from St. Bonaventure University. She worked for eight years as a mental health therapist before returning to higher education. She lives in Jamestown, NY with her husband and two children.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Anne Scheideler Sweet on Academic Advising
> BONUS <
Podcast With Brian MacDonald on New Student Orientation & Family Programs