New Student Orientation held Virtually
Edward Rudman – Sports Writer
Prior to the beginning of the 2020 fall semester, orientation or first-year students was drastically different in comparison to the 15 or so years preceding it, due to the format switching entirely online in response COVID-19.
According to Director of Orientation, Transition and Family Engagement Sal Rizza, the university has been making changes to help keep students safe while still enjoying the college experience.
Before the pandemic, orientation took place during a two-day, overnight stay at the university, most in June.
“We want students to be able to come to Southern and when they leave their orientation, they feel as though they have found they’re confident in the choice they made,” said Rizza. “Their confidence comes from meeting other students, from having a schedule, from just kind of enjoying their time.”
This task proved itself to be more difficult this past summer, as there were no on-ground orientation opportunities for incoming first year students.
Over the course of the entire summer, the university hosted 26, three hour long virtual orientation sessions. They also offered weekly opportunities and social events for students to get together virtually before arriving on campus, along with weekly communications from the school.
Rizza said, “We also developed a comprehensive asynchronous program that we gamified, in which we had different levels and different challenges that students would complete for prizes.”
In preparation for an unprecedented orientation, Rizza said he spoke with many colleagues from different universities to see what ideas they were producing and combined them with his own.
Even though a completely virtual orientation was not the ideal way to get the incoming first-year student ready, Rizza and the rest of the orientation team made sure to get the students best prepared for the virtual world they were about to step foot in.
“I approached last summer in saying I want to expose students to as much as I possibly can that they’re going to have to know in a virtual world in the fall semester. Our online asynchronous orientation program was in Blackboard,” said Rizza. “We did things in Blackboard that were the same things a student would do in Blackboard in a class. We had them upload documents, take mini quizzes, we had them utilize blackboard in such a way that if they had done that, when they started classes, they would be more ready.”
Orientation Coordinator Dan Baronski, a junior, said, “The graduate interns and Sal Rizza did an outstanding job at adjusting to the new model very quickly and making sure the team dynamic worked throughout the whole summer.”
With transfer students, the same options for orientation were offered but not mandated as they were for incoming first year students. For parents and family, there were weekly Facebook live events, which saw incredibly good participation, according to Rizza.
Looking towards the future, Rizza has been collaborating with different departments in the university to try and workshop a plan for this upcoming summer’s orientation.
“What I’m looking to do is one day, on-ground, on-campus programs, primarily,” said Rizza. “I’m thinking about groups of about 60 students, meaning we’ll have to do about 20 to 22 sessions.
“I’m going to spread those across the summer, with a focus on making sure students get and understand their schedules that we introduce them to some of the things that are best introduced in person, such as the life of a resident and a commuter,” said Rizza.
This orientation would also incorporate a virtual piece into it, but Rizza emphasized the importance and value of having in-person quality to it all. By no means is the plan final, and somethings may be subject to change, but the main goal is to have an in-person element.
Baronski said, “The graduate interns and Sal Rizza did an outstanding job at adjusting to the new model very quickly and making sure the team dynamic worked throughout the whole summer.”