The planning has been happening for months. The Orientation Leader interviews were completed. All campus partners had been contacted. The schedules were made, checked, and double checked. Programming had been finalized. The Residence Halls, Orientation Leaders, and staff were ready for the incoming Class of 2019. Finally, the new students arrived to campus and were welcomed into the community. Orientation is over… Right?
I always get comments from friends and colleagues once what we call “Orientation Proper” is over, about how I must be “relieved” or “grateful” that everything with Orientation has been completed for the year. However, this always prompts me to think: Is Orientation ever really over?
My simple answer would be, No. While schedules may ease slightly, we are always looking to keep students engaged and keep that sense of a welcoming environment alive as if it were Orientation week every week. So, then, how do we keep students engaged after orientation proper ends?
At my current institution, we have a couple of items we do that allow us to engage our students after orientation. First, we keep the connection that was made between new students and their orientation leaders going. Our orientation leaders send notes out to members of their orientation group, throughout the year, providing words of encouragement. This could be during midterms or finals, or just because they want to check in to see how their fellow classmates are doing. This method of engagement works because, as I said before, it allows our new students, and I would say our current students who are orientation leaders, to feel connected to someone and the institution. As I have heard from students, this connection made them feel comfortable, but also encouraged them to apply for leadership roles, allowing them to provide the same positive experience they received to new students.
Another initiative for new student engagement is a mentoring program. Each new student receives a peer mentor. Student Success, along with coaches and other campus partners, work to assign upperclassmen to a new student once they arrive on campus. These peers serve as sounding boards for new student concerns and questions (i.e.- where is this class located?, how do I navigate Dr. So and So’s class?, how do I balance being part of a sports team and still get my class work done?). While my current institution has done a mentor program before, in previous years it was more focused on students who might have more transitional concerns when coming into college, and faculty and staff served as those mentors. This current program allows peer to peer mentorship. While still in the infancy stages, as it is being implemented this year, I have a strong feeling it could really benefit students and allow for added bonding and community building throughout campus.
While those programs may work well on campuses to keep students engaged, there is one point that we should keep in mind to keep students engaged, especially if we understand the fact that Orientation never really ends. And that is…communication is key!
If we as Student Affairs professionals and campus communities really want to keep our students engaged and work as if Orientation week is every week of our academic year, then we must make sure that all campus constituents and functional areas are keeping communication alive. After Orientation proper is complete, is not a time to stop asking students about who they are and where they are from. It is not a time to stop having conversations about how students are feeling and seeing if there is anything that we can do to help them in their process at the college. It is not a time to stop saying a friendly “hello” as we walk by students. The way students persist and continue to grow is if all campus partners, faculty, staff, coaches, custodians, and administrators continue the communication and conversations, and work as if Orientation never really ends.
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!