New Student Orientation focused on including families, building connections

Media Credit: Alexander Welling | Assistant Photo Editor

SA President SJ Matthews, who is an orientation leader during New Student Orientation, said she will gather feedback from students and their families on New Student Orientation.

Incoming students will participate in a first-of-its-kind orientation this week focused on building connections between transfer and first-year students.

Students will attend New Student Orientation starting the week before classes for the first time in history, replacing Colonial Inauguration, during which incoming students completed orientation over select weekends in June and August. Student leaders and officials who planned orientation said the switch allows incoming students to build stronger connections through social programming – like a movie night – earlier in the year and increases family participation in students’ college transitions.

Between Aug. 21 and 25, first-year and transfer students, parents and siblings can participate in programming like a “Kickoff Event,” meetings with academic advisers, a financial aid “open house” and internship information sessions, according to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions’ webpage.

First-year students will attend orientation from Wednesday to Sunday this week, while programming for transfer students is scheduled on Thursday and Friday. Students received information on their student portal and in emails about the week’s events after registering for orientation, according to the webpage.

First-year and transfer students and families, can learn more about orientation and other topics – like dining and residence halls – in different handbooks called the “Buff and Blue Book,” the webpage states.

Easing students’ academic transitions
Benjamin Toll, the interim dean of undergraduate admissions, said orientation will be a “transitional moment” and allow students to make one less trip to campus before school starts, which can be a financial burden for families. Toll said the change will give students a “stronger foundational experience” during their transition to GW.

“We hope it will encourage students’ emotional and social development and lead to stronger relationships among students as well as with faculty and staff,” he said in an email.

Toll said incoming students participated in virtual group class registration advising sessions and registered for classes on specific days between July 31 and Aug. 6. Students will speak individually with advisers during orientation and spend Friday afternoon with faculty and peer mentors to learn more about the University’s academic resources, he said.

Increasing family participation
Parents previously attended in-person “GW 101” sessions during orientation that covered topics like dining and tuition costs. But in 2017 GW eliminated the programming, added online parent orientation and created more sessions for students that covered academic topics, like course registration.

This year’s orientation will include in-person programming for families that focuses on topics like how to be involved in students’ academic advising and how to support students living at GW.

“Family members play an important and vital role in the student’s college experience,” Toll said. “We want to provide them with knowledge and resources to be our partners in supporting our students.”

Student leader involvement
Student Association President SJ Matthews, who will serve as an orientation leader, said leaders participated in two days of training in May and two to three more days of training last week.

Matthews said Jordan West, the director for diversity and inclusion education, held a bias training workshop for orientation leaders. Orientation coordinators sent leaders information about resources like student health insurance, accessing the Colonial Health Center and the student code of conduct so leaders could answer questions from students during orientation.

“We want to make sure we’re not just giving it to them on a piece of paper,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone is able to explain it, so when people will inevitably have questions, it is really easy to just make sure they know everything they possibly need to know.”

Matthews said leaders will give brief campus tours and attend different social and academic programs with groups of 30 to 40 students. She said she will lead a group of 32 Thurston Hall residents.

Matthews added that during orientation, she will note questions from students or parents that she does not have immediate answers to and work to address concerns she hears while serving as SA president.

“I am excited to be in an orientation leader role, but in the back of my head, I’ll always be thinking, ‘How can we make your lives better as the SA?’ and ‘What do you say right now that I know we can just get done and make it just so much better for you?’” Matthews said.

Residence Hall Association President Trinity Diaz said the RHA and orientation leaders will host a movie night – featuring “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” – on the Mount Vernon Campus this Thursday to help incoming students meet one another and RHA leaders.

“The Mount Vernon Campus has our biggest freshman presence between all of the residence halls,” she said. “There are six different residence halls on campus that will be represented by RHA, and we just want to make sure that we can start talking to those students as soon as possible.”

Diaz said RHA members worked with Kendra Scott, the director of New Student Orientation, and orientation coordinators to plan the movie night. RHA members will hand out popcorn and cotton candy during the event, she said.

“It is really just going to be a moment for students to get together outside on the Vern, on the nice summer night, to just get together and meet each other for the first time,” she said.

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