Colonial Inauguration megaphone used to educate, not cheerlead

GW has students’ attention better than it ever will for nearly three days during Colonial Inauguration — a powerful and pricey megaphone that administrators are now using more to shout messages of substance rather than flash.

The Class of 2017 will be the first to go through their four years as the University lays the foundation for what administrators call a “decade of transformation.” The increased emphasis on undergraduate research, a smoke-free campus, sexual assault awareness and the career service overhaul are some of GW’s priorities that will begin to shape students’ four years once they step into freshman orientation.

Long before the students packed their bags for a weekend of skits, late-night food trucks and excursions to Dupont Circle, top administrators were planning how to change the toned-down weekend into a platform for GW’s academic goals.

Primarily, staffers will emphasize how to transition from high school to college, with programs and discussions about how to take notes, connect with professors and manage time, Senior Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said.

“In the CI environment, we want them to really understand the difference between orientation and coming back in the fall and learning to be a successful student,” Konwerski said.

For the first time, everything will be more “intentional,” said Provost Steven Lerman, who now oversees both academics and student life and has ushered in the new approach. Top administrators held several meetings throughout the year to nail down which topics they will introduce to new students, noting that the flood of information thrown at students in the past has been overwhelming, and has tended not to stick.

CI will also tout how students will be able to take advantage of this year’s $16 million renovations to Gelman Library and the $275 million construction of the Science and Engineering Hall, which will open in 2015.

Of course, it will still feature several dozen students leading humorous but educational skits for students and parents on topics like roommate squabbles and drug and alcohol use. There will still be loud music and wacky, neon accessories.

But it will mark a significant shift from the 10-minute-long, $75,000 laser lights show, casino nights and engraved chocolates sitting on each incoming freshman’s pillow at night that marked an era of extravagance — designed to keep students excited about college back when high acceptance rates and low retention rates meant GW was likely their third or fourth choice.

Administrators still keep CI’s budget under wraps, as a spokeswoman declined to release how much money GW spends on the orientation.

Here are three other big plans GW has for this year’s CI:

Showing off the new University-wide Career Center

To set the $20 million overhaul of GW’s university-wide career center into full swing, CI staffers will begin pushing students to consider in which industries they may see themselves working.

The Class of 2017 will be the first to be tracked by the Center for Career Services for how well the office’s comprehensive upgrades have worked, including software to help students match their interests with potential jobs and industries and career center staffers dedicated to reaching out to potential employers.

Instead of a seminar about career services, which Associate Provost for Career Services Rachel Brown said would be too overwhelming for students, the staff will sneak career-thinking into the program. During the Buff and Blue Barbecue on the Mount Vernon Campus, a room in Ames Hall decorated with posters for each industry will draw students in as they make their way to a dessert room down the hall.

Brown said they will ask students passing by to self-identify with the six interdisciplinary fields the career center works around, ranging from communications to science and technology. Once they identify, completing what she called the important first step in career development, they will get a pin with that word, which Brown hopes students will sport on their backpacks in the fall.

“We want this buzz around what the buttons are, and to get students thinking about who they are and what they’re bringing to their GW experience,” Brown said.

Explaining a Smoke-Free GW

When the University becomes a smoke-free campus this fall, administrators hope incoming freshmen will be the first class to enforce the change by the time they graduate.

The policy will ban smoking 25 feet from all campus buildings, effectively pushing students and GW employees into the busy District streets or off campus to light up. The ban, which drew dozens of students and some faculty to protest last fall, will be enforced by the University Police Department, Konwerski said, with students referred to the University’s judicial arm and employees to Human Resources for disciplinary action.

The University has not yet announced how it will enforce the ban or what the repercussions would be for students or employees caught breaking the policy, decisions Konwerski said would be finalized later this summer.

Konwerski added the University will use the health and wellness session during CI to explain the policy to students and parents. Posters advertising the “change in the air” will also be plastered around campus during CI.

Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine, who oversees wellness at GW, said they will also have an information table set up at the third day of the University Services fair to tell students how to quit smoking and how the University’s resources can help.

“I am hopeful we will encourage some new students to stop smoking before school and for the others, keep them from ever starting,” Levine said.

A Campus with Sexual Assault Resources

Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tara Pereira will use CI to introduce a topic that many campuses are silent on: sexual assault.

But she said that instead of taking the time to go over specifics of GW’s sexual assault policy, which passed the Faculty Senate last month after 18 months of review, her team will focus on sexual assault awareness.

“We will talk about it intentionally — without being scary and without pretending that this doesn’t happen on this campus,” Pereira said.

She added that she plans to unveil a comprehensive campaign to help students understand the policy specifics early this fall, and will consult with students on how best to go about the campaign this summer. The policy gives alleged victims two years to formally report a crime – a time window that experts said last month could chill reporting.

“Right now, it’s less about the policy. They need to know less about what the University policy is and know more about the fact that this is something the University takes seriously,” Pereira added.

Students will see a skit about sexual violence, which will be followed by a debriefing with students’ CI groups, facilitated by their CI Cabinet leaders. Both students and parents will hear about the policy, potential consequences and resources for survivors during the Student Rights and Responsibility seminar. Parents will also briefly hear about counseling options during the health and wellness seminar.

“Because we don’t want the message to be lost, we see this as the first point in a long line of education,” Pereira said. “There is so much they get at CI, are they really able to process all sexual assault information?”

Pereira also hopes to draw attention to HAVEN, the comprehensive sexual assault website she’s been putting together for almost a year.

After drawing ire from student leaders, who called out the department for taking too long to unveil the important resource, Pereira said the website will be finished in time for when fall classes begin on Aug. 26. At CI, staffers will hand out informative palm cards with a QR code bringing visitors to the website’s in-progress homepage, plastic bracelets marketing the start date and magnets.

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