Giving new students a fresh START

Sophomore Kaelyn Cochrane helps a new OSU student during START orientation. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Orientation helps guide incoming students

“I’m so lost,” the Facebook message pleads. “I know I got accepted but I don’t know where to go after that. Can someone help please?”

Quickly, an answer is posted. “Try going to oregonstate.edu/admissions/firstyear and going through the list of stuff it says to get done after you’ve been accepted. Good luck.”

This friendly interchange took place earlier this month between two incoming Oregon State freshmen who found each other through the Facebook group “Oregon State University: New students.” The Facebook page, which currently has nearly 1,500 fans, was created by the office of New Student Programs and Family Outreach to support this year’s incoming students through a medium they’re very familiar with. Social networking may be considered a distraction in some workplaces, but for OSU’s New Student Programs office, it’s an essential tool to reach out to students, and it’s working.

On the Facebook site, new students connect with others who are sharing their residence halls. They ask questions and get answers, not only from OSU staff but also from other incoming or current students. And they learn about some of OSU’s resources through videos and articles posted on the page.

Troy Ball directs new students toward the START registration tables. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Kris Winter, director of New Student Programs and Family Outreach, said her staff is using social media to connect with students months before they participate in campus activities.

“Orientation used to be the first time new students met,” Winter said. “Now they’re getting to know each other (on Facebook) before they step foot on campus.”

This summer, students are also getting face-to-face exchanges both with other students and with the campus community through START, new student orientation. This year there are 13 on-campus START events, and four out-of-state orientations, one in Alaska, one in Hawaii and two in California.  It’s usually easy to pick out START students on campus. They’re wearing bright orange backpacks provided during orientation, and they often have a parent or two in tow.

While summer orientation isn’t required, it is very popular with incoming students. So far this year, there has been an increase of 822 more students and family members than this time last year, with a month of programs still to go. Last year START served 4,871 new first year and transfer students and their families, and it’s likely that number could surpass 6,000 this year.

Freshmen are coming from all over the country, and the quality of incoming freshmen is steadily increasing. Oregon State continues to attract some of the state’s best students, as a recent report by the Oregonian demonstrated. According to the recent poll, 44 of the Portland metro area’s valedictorians or top achievers listed OSU as the school they were attending, higher than any other Oregon public university and twice that of their nearest competitor.

Kathryn Baker, with Student Leadership and Involvement, gives a new transfer student information on campus activities during START orientation. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Winter said that the numbers family members participating in START have increased this year. Students and their parents can experience part of orientation together, and then separate for special sessions, so that both the parents and the students can ask questions about OSU without feeling uncomfortable. And while students are learning about safety, alcohol use and other life skills, their parents are learning how to not hover too much in their students’ new lives.

“They get practical tips as well about how college is different than high school. In high school it might be okay to call your students’ teachers, but you shouldn’t call your students’ professor,” Winter said with a laugh.

Freshmen and transfer students who can’t attend START will be able to register for classes and meet their advisors during CONNECT Week in September, which takes place a week before school begins. And they can continue to learn more about their new school through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“I’m so excited for next year now,” one Facebook freshman fan posted on Monday. And that’s exactly what Winter and her staff want to hear.

For more information see http://oregonstate.edu/newstudents/home/index.php

~ Theresa Hogue

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