Getting students engaged and involved is, of course, an eternal challenge for everyone in this field. While we all struggle to connect our students to their peers and their institution, however, there seems to be an extra defensive layer that needs to be bypassed in community college students. Many of these students did not realize that they would even be attending a community college mere weeks before the semester began. Often, these are students that had other plans for their educational journeys, plans that had to be altered or postponed for academic or financial reasons. A large number of these students want nothing more than to “get this over with,” envisioning a scenario in which they attend class and then immediately head off to their jobs or their homes.
As such, in many cases we are up against a sense of disappointment along with a perception that perhaps student life at a community college might be somewhat lacking as compared to a four-year institution. That’s why it is especially critical to come out of the gate strong, right at the onset of the semester, when our already-motivated students are at their most excited and our less-enthusiastic students most need their minds changed. All students need to be reassured that the decision to attend this institution was the right one, and that they will be part of a vibrant and welcoming environment, one in which they will be able to find their niche and pursue their passions.
This is where our “Big Bergen Welcome” (formerly known as Welcome Weeks) comes in. At the Orientation programs throughout the summer, we speak a great deal about the extra-curricular opportunities available and the importance of getting involved, so it is imperative during the initial days and weeks of the semester to put our proverbial money where our proverbial mouth is. For those first two weeks of the semester, we try to give our students more than they expect out of us. We try to provide a wide array of high-profile events including discounted trips, first-run movies, season openers for our athletic teams, and of course some free food (budget permitting, naturally!). The centerpieces for these weeks, however, are our Club Day recruiting drives, held once during each of those first two weeks. All of our active clubs and organizations are out tabling, providing info on their groups, and networking amongst each other. It’s absolute chaos, in the best possible way. There is no better sales pitch for involvement on campus than our most involved student leaders all being in one place at one time. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s always great to see our student leaders change the minds of some of even the most skeptical new students in a way that we, as administrators, frankly never could.
While programmers at the community college level may be fighting a little harder to overcome the stigma attached to such an institution in the minds of its students, a strong Welcome-themed start is critical for colleges and universities of all sizes. It is the best way to prove that the message we all put forth at Orientation is true and genuine, no matter the specific verbiage we may use at our individual institutions: “Welcome! You will find success here, you will have fun here, and you will be happy here.”
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!