In light of the coronavirus outbreak, University of Michigan summer student orientation, which is mandatory for all first-year and transfer students, is moving online.
As orientation is a chance to visit campus and meet other students before classes start, the switch to online orientation will affect the ability of students to do so. Incoming freshman Anagha Kodur said she was already concerned her introverted nature would make the transition difficult. With an online orientation, she’s worried it’ll be even more challenging.
“My main goal was that, before the pandemic happened, I told myself I’d go and be really outgoing and I wanted to make friends,” Kodur said. “I don’t want to be lonely on campus on the first day, you know? Usually, I’m a really shy person and really introverted, and now it’s going to be even harder meeting new people. Meeting people online is just not the same as meeting them in-person.”
Ann Hower, director of the Office of New Student Programs, said the office is preparing intensively to provide an excellent experience for the new students. Preparations include weekly calls with all the advising units as well as Information and Technology Services.
According to Hower, the majority of the orientation will take place over Wolverine Access and Canvas in five steps. Students begin by signing up for an academic advising date on Wolverine Access. Then, they will be required to complete a new online course titled the Wolverine Transition Course on Canvas and any online placement exams if required by the student’s academic college.
“We are trying to keep this as simple as possible so we can focus mostly on the engagement,” Hower said.
After participating in advising activities from the students’ college, students proceed to the last step and register for courses.
Hower said 20 student orientation leaders and 10 Educational Theatre Company actors will be assigned a group of incoming students for each orientation session to answer their questions and host online small-group discussions to talk about the transition to the University. There will also be a number of academic and peer advisors available for incoming students to talk to.
Hower said providing access to orientation for all students is one of their priorities. According to Hower, ONSP is sending out text messages and postcards to inform all incoming undergraduates about virtual orientation.
Current University students with a lack of access to the internet and technology have discussed difficulties with participating in remote coursework. For incoming students who cannot access orientation content online, Hower said ONSP is working on structuring orientation so it is possible to conduct programming through the phone and by sending all the content of the Canvas course in the mail.
“We are very concerned about our students who either don’t have the technology like a computer or they don’t have the internet,” Hower said. “In rural areas, this can be very spotty.”
LSA junior Tommy Lee is an actor for the ETC, a company employed by the University to take part in various University-sponsored programs. The ETC performs shows for all incoming students during orientation geared toward providing an introduction to campus and available resources.
“We really try to showcase a lot of diverse perspectives and experiences and just make sure that students really feel heard and that their experiences are very valid and that we really value what they’re bringing to the University,” Lee said.
Lee said ETC will still play an active role in orientation. Rather than conducting their events in-person, Lee said they will be interacting with incoming students through different video conferencing platforms to help them through the orientation process.
Lee acknowledged shifting online will make it more difficult for new students to transition smoothly to a new campus environment. However, like Hower, Lee said ETC will try to provide the best experience possible.
“I remember from my freshman year, it was pretty scary, and I could not imagine having to go through all of that online and then be expected to come later on and start classes,” Lee said. “I think we are going to approach it very cautiously and with a lot of empathy and just try to make sure we are giving them the best experience they can have.”
LSA junior Max Sharin was an academic peer advisor at LSA Honors orientation last summer. He met with incoming students to guide them in registering for classes and to provide general advice to new students.
“There were definitely times during orientation where we would sit with all the freshmen in groups of 20 or so and they could ask us any questions,” Sharin said. “And none of the professional staff were there and none of their parents were around, so that’s really the time where they would get real peer-to-peer advising.”
Sharin said a large part of building connections with and among the new students stemmed from simple ice-breaker games such as charades. With orientation going remote, he said it would be difficult to play the same games and build those same connections.
“Orientation really tones down some of the anxiety a lot of the students have in their freshman year,” Sharin said. “I think if it went online, they wouldn’t be able to play those stupid games, and then they probably wouldn’t be able to be vulnerable with us to ask those questions about what they’re nervous about and not be able to make those connections with their peer advisors and other students.”
Incoming freshman Esha Elahi expressed these concerns and wondered how remote orientation will change the experience of meeting new freshmen.
“I was looking forward to meeting new people because I’ve heard from others too, that orientation is how they found their friend group,” Elahi said. “I’m definitely going to miss out on that experience of getting to know campus and getting to know new people before school starts.”
LSA junior Elizabeth Einig was an academic peer advisor for Honors students last summer. Like Sharin, she said she thinks the in-person additional activities with incoming students helped them adjust more easily to the campus environment.
Einig said adding extra activities for students to participate in at the beginning of the fall semester may help alleviate not being able to provide these during remote orientation this summer.
“I remember when I was in orientation, (orientation) was a big part of why I felt secure with starting in the fall at U-M,” Einig said. “The transition from the beginning to the end of orientation, there is so much growth, and I think students will be missing a lot of that opportunity to feel secure with the University. When they start on campus, there will probably need to be more activities for incoming students to really feel acclimated to the campus.”
Hower said an in-person orientation has important components not easily replicable by an online orientation. However, Hower said her office is committed to giving incoming students the best experience possible remotely.
“We know the in-person experience is really special,” Hower said. “A lot of the students meet their friends that last for years. There’s something about being on campus, seeing the campus, seeing the other new students, that is hard to duplicate online. But we are very committed to giving them an excellent experience, in terms of introducing them to the university and letting them know how much we are excited to meet them and talk with them, even if we can’t see them in person right now.”
Reporter Saini Kethireddy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.