Orientation programming eases transition into GW, students say

Media Credit: Alexander Welling | Assistant Photo Editor

Students and families who participated in New Student Orientation said the model helped them acclimate to campus and familiarize themselves with University resources.

Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty started her Wednesday at 7 a.m. to greet students at their residence halls – and that was just the start to five days of interacting with incoming students and parents during orientation.

Freshmen and their families participated in the first-ever New Student Orientation last week, replacing the longstanding Colonial Inauguration that students attended over the summer. More than 30 students and families who participated in the programming said the fall model helped them become familiarized with University resources and acclimated to campus life through scheduled community and service events.

“We are just going to keep working on the things that make the lives of students easier and richer,” Petty said. “I want people to love their experience.”

Petty said she passed her cellphone number out to families and fielded calls throughout the week from parents asking questions or providing feedback about orientation. She said she will regularly meet with students, randomly attend student events unannounced and plan weeklong stays in residence halls – an initiative she piloted last year.

University President Thomas LeBlanc said including families in orientation forges connections between families and helps parents adjust to leaving their children at GW. He said moving the timing of orientation to right before classes begin will allow students to bond together earlier.

“With this orientation starting all together at the beginning of the semester, it starts creating a class bond that is very hard to build if you come in pieces throughout the summer, which is how we used to do orientation,” LeBlanc said.

Parents could participate in programming like a panel for first-generation families, a resource fair and a session during which professors discussed how to use faculty resources to “maximize” a student’s educational experience, according to the New Student Orientation webpage.

Shehnaz Khan, a double alumna and the parent of an incoming student, said parents attended a panel during which current students answered questions about different topics, like what they wished they knew before coming to college.

“They really enjoyed asking the students who are juniors or seniors about what their experiences have been like, what would you have wanted to know when you first got here that you know now that you didn’t know then,” she said.

Mary Pat Amrein, the parent of an incoming student, said she took notes on breakout sessions that covered topics like study abroad and career services, which she will discuss with her son when orientation is over. Amrein said the room scheduled for the study abroad session could not fit the surplus of families that wanted to attend, but officials added a new section to accommodate more families.

“It was great that they let us sit in on a session for the kids,” she said.

Freshman Madison Galerston said involving parents in orientation allowed her family to connect with her roommates and their families before starting classes. She said the new orientation programming helps parents learn more about different resources that will help their children during their time at college.

“Having our parents doing the orientation programs together, moving us all in and being together, I think helps because now all of our parents know each other,” Galerston said. “If something is happening, they have someone to talk to about it.”

Freshman Ashley Bumbaugh said she enjoyed touring the monuments with her orientation leader Thursday night because the tour allowed students who are not familiar with D.C. to explore the city. Orientation leaders also planned tours around campus so students could locate their classes before the start of the semester.

Bumbaugh said she was a “little overwhelmed” before registering for classes online in the summer, which all students were required to complete before coming to campus. She said participating in programming for the Elliott School of International Affairs and meeting with her adviser during orientation helped her understand more about her schedule and how to register for classes in the future.

“I was excited to get into Blackboard and then see everything that I needed,” she said. “But, once I did that, I had to spend a good week just getting into it and slowly figuring out what I needed.”

Incoming students participated in five days of programming during orientation, but new transfer students and their families only attended events Thursday and Friday. Transfer students took part in activities like a “Kick-Off” event, a resource fair and academic advising sessions, according to the New Student Orientation webpage.

Sebastian Reyes, an incoming transfer student, said he wished the orientation for transfer students had only been one day instead of on both Thursday and Friday, because he has already gone through the transition to college once before.

“Just because the information that they bombarded me with I already knew, because in my previous school, they just called it different things,” he said.

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