Incoming first-year and transfer students at Miami University will complete a virtual orientation in preparation for the Fall 2021 semester due to current COVID-19 gathering guidelines.
The updated program builds upon last year’s online orientation, combining both asynchronous and synchronous portions.
Liz Walsh, director of orientation and transition programs, said the decision to conduct orientation virtually came after an array of conversations between university administrators and the president’s executive council.
In addition to state gathering guidelines, Vice President for Student Affairs Jayne Brownell said the division also considered student travel risks and needs when making its decision.
“We wanted to have as level of a playing field for everybody as possible and not have some people in-person and some people virtual,” Brownell said. “So we tried to figure out something that could be as equal as possible.”
Orientation and Transition Programs received feedback from prior and current Student Orientation Undergraduate Leaders (SOULs) along with first-year students who attended the fall 2020 orientation.
Last year’s program included an asynchronous Canvas course, academic advising, registration and Welcome Weekend.
Although some aspects will remain the same, Brownell and Walsh said this year’s orientation is viewed as a five-stage process, which includes a Canvas course, synchronous Zoom sessions, advising appointments and registration, optional pre-semester programs and Welcome Weekend.
Similar to last year, the Canvas course covers information on a variety of subjects, like academic curriculum and student life, which students can access throughout their first year.
A four hour synchronous Zoom session is a new addition to virtual orientation.
Although the program will not be in-person, this portion allows real-time interactions among students, SOULs and academic advisors.
“We know that new students and current students, too, are craving the relationship part of the college experience,” Walsh said. “So those online sessions are really meant to put names with faces [and] to be a big welcome to the institution.”
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The Zoom meeting offers an opportunity for students to learn about the integration of academic and student life. The session covers topics that range from class suggestions to time management skills.
Junior marketing and professional writing double major and former SOUL Maya Stoffer led virtual orientation for fall 2020, serving as a go-to correspondent for specific students and leading small group discussions. Because of the online setting, Stoffer got to know incoming first-years in a different way than normal.
“I was getting to read all of [their] hopes and fears, as well as what [they]’re hoping to achieve [and their] goals,” Stoffer said. “I really got to know a lot of [them], but I think that it was a different aspect that I got to know.”
Although this year’s program is designed differently, Walsh intends to maintain and strengthen this relationship between students and SOULs with real-time interaction.
Without the ability to participate in person, incoming students don’t get the experience of staying in Oxford and exploring college life, which poses some challenges to transitioning.
“I think it’s tough when you can’t feel the campus, and when students aren’t able to come to campus during the summer, it feels like less of a confirmation that they made the right choice,” Walsh said.
Regardless, virtual orientation has some unique benefits for both incoming students and student leaders.
“It was definitely different, but I think it was a learning experience because we had to be very flexible,” Stoffer said. “You had to adapt … learning how to conduct lessons and convey information virtually, which I think will be very important and essential even after all of these COVID times.”
The Canvas orientation course becomes available to first-year and transfer students on May 3, welcoming students to a new phase of their lives.