University plans major CI overhaul

The University plans to dramatically change Colonial Inauguration in the coming years, beginning this summer with the elimination of a costly laser light show and several other luxuries, a top administrator said Thursday.

The freshman orientation program will have fewer “bells and whistles” for the incoming freshman class and the savings will be reallocated to other programs designed for freshmen, said Robert Chernak, vice president for student and academic support services.

“We’ve seen an increase in costs at CI – which is partially because of our flair for showmanship – but we’re going to get back to the underlying purposes,” Chernak said.

University officials are also evaluating further changes for next year, including reducing the length of the event from three days to two days. Chernak said this is possible because class registration is online.

Beginning this June, there will no longer be horse and buggy rides, caricaturists or free parent breakfasts – though entertainment options like the “Capital Steps” comedy troupe will remain.

This year’s laser light show was slated to cost the University between $70,000 and $75,000 to play at the five CI orientations, Chernak said. The cost was higher because of updates to the program like changing the words “Stephen Joel Trachtenberg” to “Steven Knapp.”

“It’s nice, it’s fun, but it’s five minutes,” Chernak said of the show, an orientation tradition since 1997. “In the grand scheme of things, there are better ways to spend our dollars and benefit the students.”

The proposed overhaul for next year would have “a quick introduction to the school” over the summer, followed by an early freshman move-in with a focus on academics and class bonding. The summer session will still include Colonial Cabinet, small group discussions, skits, the student organization fair and other features of the current orientation.

“Satisfying some of the socializing needs during the summer session will help students focus on more of the informational activities during part two during the fall,” he said. “If we can alleviate that distraction, we can hope to improve the retention rate of the academic and development information we give incoming freshmen.”

Chernak said the changes to next year’s CI were not finalized and that the proposals were still being vetted by various administrators and academic deans. He said his department would look to focus groups of students to “test their assumptions” about student experiences at CI.

“Nothing is set in stone yet,” Chernak said. “You’ve got to get these things out there and then wait for the feedback.”

The University began studying possible changes to CI about a year ago and has been collecting suggestions for program improvement since then, said Helen Cannaday Saulny, assistant vice president of student and academic support services.

She said that when they get the feedback, they will tweak the program and present it to senior officials and University President Steven Knapp for further review.

She said, “So far, we have received very positive feedback and suggestions to consider further.”

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