One of the biggest benefits of an in-person orientation is providing the very first opportunities for incoming students to interact and make friends. But as UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) freshman and transfer orientations are moved online, orientation staffers are worried. They now must come up with new solutions to keep students interested on Zoom, connect with students, and adjust activities to an online format.
“I don’t think [making friends is] impossible over an online format, but I saw a lot of students make friends from the walk from Campbell Hall to Manzanita Village as we moved from the welcome assembly to the first academic advising presentation,” says orientation staffer Andre Nguyen.
“With no walk over, because this is all being done through a computer, students lose those opportunities to get to know each other through little conversations like that,” Nguyen points out.
The directors of UCSB’s Student Orientation program had informed staffers about the shift to an online orientation in late April. By that time, it had been announced that summer session A would be held remotely and summer session B was yet to be confirmed.
“When we did get the news, it wasn’t a shock, but a confirmation of what we thought to be the ‘worst case scenario’ in our eyes,” explains Brogan Gallagher, one of the program assistants.
Usually, orientation staff have a retreat at the beginning of spring quarter, followed by a quarter-long in-person training. As everything moves online, retreat is also scrapped, meaning staffers will have less opportunities to get to know the people they’re working with.
“For example, training sessions started promptly at 3 p.m., but if I was there at 2:50 p.m., I’d get to sit and talk with whoever was seated next to me. That sort of interaction simply doesn’t happen over a Zoom call,” says Nguyen.
Though it has become harder for orientation staffers to get to know each other, they are making efforts to overcome the barriers by scheduling Friday night Zoom calls and setting up one-on-one meetings. Fortunately, staffers still have Advising Partners (APs) who help them practice academic advising.
“It’s been weird to not be in the office anymore and see everyone’s faces, but Zoom is better than nothing!” Gallagher notes.
Switching to an online summer orientation is going to look different. Incoming students will mainly connect with their advisors via Zoom calls. Other activities are also being planned.
“We are trying to preserve as much of the program as possible, and are still planning on giving tours, workshops, panels, presentations, and the student night social where students will get to interact,” explains Rory Bevacqua, one of two student coordinators who lead the staff of 26.
The one-on-one advising sessions that staffers have with students will be longer than they were last year. Nguyen recalls having around five minutes to speak with each student about their course placements and academic requirements. “If my information is correct, we will be given 15 minutes to meet with each student individually, and academic advising presentations will be done with two orientation staffers in a single Zoom call this time,” Nguyen says.
To prevent any technical issues, Bevacqua says the lead team is making plans to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.
“Internet connection could always potentially become an issue, so we are trying to come up with backup plans in case a staffer gets dropped from a video call,” Bevacqua says.
Despite all the changes, staffers are still optimistic and eager to do their best to ease the transition to a new university for incoming students as much as possible.
“I think the person I was as a 17-year-old high school graduate would be really nervous in a format like this,” Nguyen admits. “I hope that I can connect with those students, help them feel well-informed, get them excited to attend UCSB, and be a reassuring presence in my capacity as a staff member.”