MCTC’s Student Life department debuted an optional second day of orientation for new students this year. Day one is a mandatory orientation wherein students take their placement tests, speak with their advisers, and register for their classes. (Ed. note: placement tests must occur before day one of orientation) Day two is a more student focused optional day, featuring a question and answer panel of student leaders, guided tours, and workshops.
I participated as an Orientation Leader (OL) this August and found the process to be particularly helpful to some of the new students who attended, but I also encountered new students who were disengaged and became arrogant about their understanding of materials and would disrespectfully talk over me during the tours.
I’d like to take this opportunity to address some of the individual elements of the programs in terms of what worked, and what didn’t.
Breaking into groups made it possible to determine which students needed the most help. This way, students who had finished most of their registration process and were familiar with the campus after the first day could spend day two looking for their classrooms and accessing their online resources, while students who were struggling with registration could get the assistance and guidance they needed directly from an OL.
The smaller groups I led tended to be more engaged and asked more questions throughout the orientation. When I lead groups of two or three students, they didn’t hesitate to ask me questions about classes, faculty, and resources which I felt groups of seven or eight were more reluctant to ask.
There was a lot of great information discussed in the panels, and OLs managed to inject some energy into what was (for the morning sessions, at least) a very tired and distracted audience.
Very few of the students in my groups opted to attend the workshops. There was a lot of great information in them, certainly, but since they happened after an exhaustive tour of the campus and weren’t mandatory many students chose to just leave or rest instead.
The library was only open for one of the Orientation: Day 2 sessions. The staff member inside was able to provide my group with great information that I was able to pass on to other groups, but for the days the library was closed I wasn’t able show the students what it was actually like inside.
There was a lot of emphasis during the training for the OL position about playing icebreaker games to facilitate communication within the group. This did not excite the students, and for smaller groups I left that step out altogether. I understand the goal was to create a feeling of community right away, but most professors also have some kind of icebreaker involved in their first day of classes. Classes, unlike orientation, are sustained for a long period of time so it’s much more important for students to know each other and I feel that it’s a better environment for fostering community either way.
My recommendation for next year would be to have more of a mentorship program for new students, with more OLs leading fewer students and checking in on them through the first weeks. I would also start the day with the workshops, since I found students to be be less dismissive at the beginning of the orientation than at the end. I would also make the new students come up with questions for the panel to answer instead of asking them to volunteer, this would be a better way to get them engaged from the onset and tackle questions that the panels might otherwise overlook.