Summer orientation is back on campus — with a few twists – UBNow: News and views for UB faculty and staff

Summer orientation is back on campus — with a few twists - UBNow: News and views for UB faculty and staff

Campus News

Incoming students are able to attend orientation on campus for the first time in three years. Photos: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By JAY REY

Matt Ardila-Weigand.

Summer just hasn’t been quite the same at UB without accepted students coming to campus for orientation, but this month, they’re back.

Orientation resumed in person on campus July 7 after being held virtually the past two summers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Two-day sessions will run on Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as Thursdays and Fridays throughout the month of July, when more than 3,000 students will get a preview of life at UB before they begin classes in the fall.

UBNow sat down with Matt Ardila-Weigand, director of orientation, transition and parent programs, to talk about returning to campus, virtual options and how the past couple years may change orientation moving forward.

It’s been awhile since UB offered summer orientation in person. How does it feel to be back?

This is the first time we’re offering summer orientation in person and on campus since 2019. The past couple years everything was virtual — asynchronous components, synchronous components. My staff spent a lot of time creating what I think turned out to be a really successful and pretty positive virtual experience, but we’re definitely excited to be back to in-person programs for most of our incoming students.

Anything new for orientation this year?

We do have a few reimagined sessions, but a lot of our planning this year was not so much about new sessions or programs, or things like that, but more about, how do we take the best of what we had and reduce COVID risk.

Can you explain?

We have a lot of rotations going on, for example. Instead of everyone eating dinner at one time in one place, we actually have three different rotations over a period of three hours — those kinds of things. We’ve also made thousands of calls to students reminding them to submit their COVID vaccination proof so they’d be eligible to attend on-campus orientation. Behind the scenes, that has taken up so much of our staff’s time and that nobody will really see, but it’s just an interesting twist this year, which is very different — at least internally — from previous years. A continuing strength of the program, though, is our team of student orientation leaders who do an expert job of sharing their UB experiences in ways that guide and inspire our new students.

What has the response been?

The response from new students excellent attending the program so far has been. They appreciate being on campus, hearing from faculty and staff, working with orientation leaders and getting a taste of life at UB before the semester starts.

What if students are uncomfortable attending orientation in person during the pandemic?

We have never done a pandemic version of an in-person orientation before, so I don’t know how our no-show rates in the past are going to compare to this year’s no-show rates. We are registering about 490 students to each one of these sessions, but there seems like there has been more movement than in the past. As a result of that, students can come to a later session or choose an online-only version of summer orientation. We haven’t really provided that option in the past, but we’re sort of forced into providing that option.

What’s online orientation like?

This year the online options are all asynchronous, so it’s basically a series of modules and each module has these videos and text that cover a particular topic, like academics at UB, life at UB, etc. Most of the same results are achieved but in a different format. This will all be supplemented by the on-campus Welcome Weekend experience in August.

What about parents? Were they invited to orientation this year?

In the past, we have had on-campus parent orientation programs, but this year — for pandemic reasons specifically — we’re not offering any on-campus programs for parents. We have what we call “on-demand resources” so parents can watch videos talking about academic success, paying for college, living on campus, etc. We also do some live one-hour webinars for families and we send them periodic emails.

Do you think UB will continue to offer an online option for summer orientation?

To me, that’s something we have to think really critically about. I like that we have an online option. In my ideal world, I would have both options because I think some students can’t come to campus for COVID-related reasons but also for other reasons. If we can provide both the virtual option that we provided last year, for example, and the on-campus experience that we’re providing this year, that would be better.

Any lessons learned from these past two years?

If I had to summarize, that would be my primary lesson learned: Things don’t have to be one particular way. So how can we provide options and flexibility for students and their parents or family members in a way that meets their needs? No matter how much we think coming to campus in July is a really great experience and helps set students up for success there have always been people who can’t for whatever reason — they can’t get off work, they can’t afford to travel. Can we be more proactive in planning sort of a variety of options that would meet the same outcomes for all of those groups?

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