When Shannon Hardy misplaced her bookbag at her UMW orientation, it felt like a disaster. But the help and reassurance she got from her orientation leaders reinforced that she made the right college choice.
“That’s just how Mary Wash is,” said Hardy, a rising junior. “Everyone here wants you to succeed and gives you the tools to make that happen. I want every new student to feel the sense of belonging that I’ve felt since that day.”
Hardy’s among the 30 student orientation leaders who will shepherd hundreds of new Eagles through the University of Mary Washington’s 2020 orientation. Unlike her own orientation, though, she is connecting with incoming students via a computer screen.
Freshman orientation, pandemic style. Like other universities, UMW has had to shift from its traditional model of having new students experience life on campus to exploring their new home via Zoom. Today marks the first of nine one-day virtual sessions geared toward freshmen, while transfers had their pick of three events that began earlier this summer.
But that’s only the beginning – a series of online engagements with UMW faculty, staff and current students will guide incoming students throughout the summer and prepare them to step onto campus in the fall.
Earlier this year, when Melissa Jones, associate dean of Student Involvement, crossed paths with Associate Provost Tim O’Donnell, the pair mentioned that they should start talking about orientation. “We had already built such a successful system over the years, that it didn’t even seem necessary at the time,” O’Donnell said.
But once COVID-19 shuttered the campus, the Academic and Student Affairs teams realized they had to pivot from the in-person events they’ve planned in the past. They describe the new model as “extended, flexible, substantive, personal and exciting.”
Peer-to-peer interaction is a hallmark of the UMW experience, Jones said, so it was important to convey that online. Incoming students have already spent the last month engaging in a variety of virtual “touchpoints,” she said, including panels with orientation leaders to learn about campus life, and game nights and bracket challenges over social media.
“The best thing we can do for our new students is connect with them virtually all summer long,” New Student Programs Coordinator Britni Greenleaf said. “Then, we can show them the spirit of UMW in August.”
Each session will welcome more than 100 new undergrads to Mary Washington over Zoom, where they’ll meet President Troy Paino, be introduced to UMW’s values of ASPIRE and learn how to access and use Canvas and UMW email. They’ll discover uniquely UMW entities like the First-Year Experience, the Common Experience and the Honor Code, and watch a video on “Designing Your Life.”
In smaller breakout groups, they will get to know their peers, while a large panel discussion will give them the chance to pose questions to current students about dining and housing, service and community engagement opportunities, clubs and extracurricular activities, and more.
They’ll also enjoy “UMW Live,” a series of student-created skits to walk freshmen through campus life and university resources, Jones said, which will be prerecorded this year. “It’s always everyone’s favorite part of orientation,” she said, adding that students can tune in afterwards to hang out and play games with orientation leaders.
In the coming weeks, students will begin virtual one-on-one advising sessions with faculty members in their intended major. It’s a new feature that O’Donnell anticipates will become a part of future events once campus reopens.
But the conversation doesn’t stop there, O’Donnell said, explaining that UMW will present a series of Canvas modules and live webinars throughout the summer for incoming students and their families. Topics to be covered include resources for students of color, being first-in-family college students, health and safety procedures, and using the Center for Career and Professional Development.
“We want to make sure that every student knows we are here for them,” said orientation leader Val Ortiz, who is a sophomore. “And that no matter the circumstances, we are still #OneUMW.”
Other sessions this month will take place on June 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29 and 30 for first-years, with a special session on June 23 for those enrolled in the Student Transition Program. The final session for transfer students will take place on July 7. For more information and details about the schedule, please contact the Office of Student Involvement at firstname.lastname@example.org.