By Joy Vann

Following Admitted Students Day in early April, students who will soon call 鶹AV home began their journey of becoming Monarchs by beginning the University’s new orientation program.

Called “New to Blue: New Student Experience,” the program is designed to answer all student and parent questions, introduce them to all the resources available, register for classes and housing, obtain parking passes, and most of all, invite them to “explore, discover and rule” their transition to college.

Pearson, Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Center for Orientation, Retention & Exploration (CORE) in Student Engagement, Enrollment, and Services (SEES), said her team was charged to dispense with the previous one-day-and-done approach to orientation and to create an entirely updated program.

Pearson knew just where the team needed to begin the process of creating an updated program.

“I know from experience that the first question an incoming student has is: When is the admissions deposit due? I could not find that information on the website and so I said to the staff, there’s free coffee for anyone who can tell me where the due date for the admissions deposit is. And that was our starting point,” she said.

So, thinking like incoming students, the CORE team revamped orientation by creating a transitional journey that starts when the prospective student decides that 鶹AV is the right school for them. The program has three phases, combines online and in-person experiences, and ensures students know what to expect because everything is laid out in the New Student Experience website, “a one-stop shop containing everything that new students need to know.”

The process begins with “Explore Your Kingdom.” That introductory phase consists of submitting the admissions deposit, signing up for the Monarch Identification and Authorization System and obtaining University email.

Other tasks to be completed include taking placement exams, enrolling in the new student experience course “Explore Your Kingdom: Pre-Orientation Module.” Also, students in exploratory, education and engineering majors can schedule an advising and course registration appointment, which is a pilot program that will ideally open to all in the future.

“That's been going really well for those students, making sure that they're meeting their requirements and getting in the right classes,” Pearson said of the first summer session. “It gives the students more intentional time with their advisor and helps create more flexible schedules. We’ve heard really positive things about that.”

The second phase, “Discover Your Pride,” is open to all students. The day before this begins, incoming students can register to spend the night in a residence hall. In June, the overnight stay was held in the England House and participants visited the Student Recreation and Well-Being Center where they had dinner, climbed the rock wall, swam and made new friends.

“Discover Your Pride” is a one-day on campus orientation that starts with a morning information session followed by lunch at Chartway Arena. Then, students visit important places on campus to learn about the services and resources that will be available to them.

“Instead of doing a traditional resource fair, we bring the students to the resource so they can decide which resources are going to be most critical to their success,” Pearson said. “So, instead of having tables for each resource, we take them to the Military Connection Center, to Educational Accessibility in the Student Success Center and to the Student Recreation and Wellness Center,” she said.

The final phase is called “Rule Your Dominion,” which is conducted both online and on campus. It introduces students to programs they can take part in before school starts to make friends and get more comfortable on campus. It begins at the end of the on-campus orientation and runs through the first day of classes. During this time student create a strategy for success and those who will live on campus prepare for move-in.

Some of the programs they learn about include First Year Summer Institute, a three-day leadership program, and the Monarch Volunteer Program that offers incoming students the chance to meet fellow students while helping the local community. Monarch Meet-Ups are informal get-togethers where incoming students might do a photo tour and visit the lion statue on Kaufman Mall, the mermaid at Brock Commons and rub Big Blue’s belly in Webb Center. 

In June, Jamila Balamani and her son Joshua Hunter from Brandywine, Maryland, enjoyed the morning session before a lunch featuring pasta stations, salads and crudités, and a southern picnic of fried chicken, barbeque, corn on the cob and collard greens.

While Hunter said that the orientation was “cool,” his mother was a bit more expansive.

“I really enjoyed the education, getting all the email contacts and QR codes, and especially the financial information,” she said, explaining that she learned about a section of documentation that was missing from her son’s information.

“New to Blue” also featured a new social media element. 鶹AV’s social media team let Monarch Student Orientation Leaders “take over” the University’s Instagram page. The strategy inserts a level of authenticity into the program and lets the incoming students have another way to interact with current students.