At the end of every New Student Orientation, one of the student workers tries to catch people before they leave and cajole them into taking a short survey about the experience. Whenever I do it, my pitch goes something like this: “Before you leave, would you mind taking a quick survey about orientation? This is the first year we’ve done it, and we’re looking for feedback, stuff we did well, stuff we need to work on.”
Usually they agree, but if they don’t, I mention that there’s a free T-shirt in it for them, and that takes care of most of the rest. I don’t know how much they realize that they’re guinea pigs for the college, or how much it means to us when they spontaneously compliment us on the surveys, or that we take those circled “strongly agree”s to heart, as evidence that we’re doing something right.
I didn’t have a New Student Orientation before I started at Hudson Valley. My orientation was entirely self-directed: I decided what program to enroll in, I emailed and made appointments to speak with several professors in the department, I figured out how to sign up for classes and how to get the certificate of residence and how to submit all the proper paperwork. And on my first day of classes, when I realized ten minutes into my first lecture that I had picked the wrong major, I found the department chair of the program I should have enrolled in, walked into her office, introduced myself, and asked for help.
New Student Orientation streamlines this process immensely. All admitted students are now required to attend one of the four-hour sessions, and while four hours is certainly a big chunk of time, the college packs a lot into it: new students fill out a Student Activity Interest Form, indicating which clubs and activities they might like to participate in, and the college puts them in touch with the heads of the clubs they select. Then they sit through a presentation about the basics of attending Hudson Valley: the cost savings, the academics, the college policies on everything from assault to plagiarism, the many opportunities to get help and where to find it.
After that, we lead them on a tour of arguably the three most important buildings on campus: the Marvin Library, Guenther Enrollment Services Center, and the Siek Campus Center. Most students take the tour in silence, occasionally texting someone or making a comment to a friend, but sometimes there are questions. I can answer almost all of them now (yes, the college has a fitness center open to students; yes, you can print from your laptop; no, we don’t have a meal plan per se, but you can put credit on your student ID to use at Dining Services).
After the tour comes the most tedious but possibly the most useful part of the day: learning how to use WIReD. It’s a clunky system, and I’ve never really liked using it, though I concede that it does store a lot of useful information. But having to explain certain quirks and gaps over and over again has made me hyper-aware of its failings: you can’t filter out closed sections of a course when you’re looking for a section to enroll in. You have to click on “Advanced Search” every single time you want to look for a specific course. There’s no quick way to switch between searching for courses and looking at your current schedule (though a few enterprising new students taught me that you can have two different tabs open, and refresh them accordingly).
Finally, advisors talk to the new students one-on-one and help them pick courses for their first semester at the college, then help them enroll. Student orientation workers like me remain on hand throughout the process, answering questions about times, sections, dates, and what the heck R stands for (borrowing a joke from my first alma mater, I tell people, “R is Thursday. It’s Rursday”).
Many students are coming straight from high school and intend to follow a simple progression: attend Hudson Valley full-time for two years, then graduate and either go to work or transfer to a four-year school. Others are returning students my age or older. Some bring their young children with them to orientation. Some are single parents and need to be home by a certain time each day so they can pick their kids up from school. Others work part-time or full-time, and want classes only on certain days or at certain times, or only online.
When they’re done, we ask them to fill out a survey before they leave, letting us know how we did. For most of the summer, we said goodbye by wishing them a great summer and telling them we’d see them in the fall, but lately it’s been, “Enjoy the rest of your summer!” and, finally, “See you next week!”
Do they know everything they need to? Probably not—they had a lot of information thrown at them during orientation. But hopefully they know enough: where the learning centers are, how to navigate the nightmare parking situation the first couple weeks of the semester, how important and useful their student IDs are, that the computer lab in the Campus Center is always open. And that if they ever have a question, all they need to do is ask.