UMass welcomes incoming Minutemen with virtual New Students Orientation

UMass creates #40DaysofUMass for Fall Welcome

Collegian+file+photo

Collegian file photo

By Maria Elena Little Endara, Collegian Correspondent

For freshmen and other new students that will be joining the University of Massachusetts community in the fall, the transition to an entirely virtual college life has begun with New Students Orientation. In previous years, NSO took place in-person during the summer to help incoming students build connections and familiarize themselves with the campus.

This year however, incoming students took part in Zoom activities and virtual presentations.

“The biggest thing students miss out on by not having an in-person orientation experience is the ability to navigate campus on their own and the experience of staying in the Residence Hall overnight,” said New Student Transitions Coordinator Laura Bourque. “Generally, these experiences give students a glimpse into on campus living and allow them to become more familiar with the landmarks on campus.”

Incoming students met with academic advisors and registered for classes remotely. Students also took part in online presentations and activities to better settle in and establish relationships with staff and classmates. This also applied to incoming transfer students for the fall semester.

“Initially, we had hoped to offer some socially-distanced, small group in-person programming for those who were planning to live on campus. Once the decision to go fully remote was made, we also chose to eliminate any in-person programs for Fall Welcome. We believe this was the best decision for students and the staff who would have worked the program,” said Bourque.

However, orientation leader Helen Sajo, a junior geography and economics major, said that many incoming UMass students weren’t aware of the online orientation and or didn’t participate.

“We’ve been doing orientation since June in Microsoft Teams. However, we don’t think students were aware or did not know they needed to log in, which sucked because we put so much work into it. We had live sessions every day for students to ask us questions and to talk about UMass, but attendance wasn’t as high as we had hoped,” said Sajo.

Sajo and other student leaders were not told beforehand about the changes made to the University’s reopening plan on Aug. 6, forcing them to adjust quickly.

“We tried to prep students as much as possible, and to inform them of University policies as they were changing. We got news at the same time as everyone else which made it hard to adjust quickly and to answer questions,” said Sajo.

During a virtual campus forum held on Aug. 14, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said that members of the community were informed immediately after the significant changes were made to the reopening plan. According to Subbaswamy, the University released the new reopening plan six to eight hours after the administration made the decision.

The difficulties presented by the virus has left university officials constantly working to find safe alternatives to the traditional college experience.

“While the program was certainly different, we were able to make sure students received the information they needed while completing a variety of important tasks, such as Academic Advising,” Bourque said. “No virtual program can replace the in-person experience, but we were able to offer students ongoing support through engagement with our orientation leaders, posted Moodle content and regular outreach via telephone and Microsoft Teams.”

For Fall Welcome, which begins with move-in and extends through the first week of classes, the University has launched several virtual programs help new and returning students feel well-established.

“Our goal, especially during the first week or so, has also been to help students navigate the physical campus of UMass and allow them opportunities to get to know one another, what resources are available to them, and for them to find ways to engage beyond the Fall Welcome program,” Bourque said.“For this year, we’re still excited to offer some social opportunities for students and opportunities for them to get to connect with their peers and other university offices and resources.”

The school has launched a program of activities called #40DaysofUMass for fall Welcome. The program will begin on August 23 and will provide resources to help incoming students succeed.

Each of the 40 days will have a special topic that will help students establish themselves in their new college lives. Some of the topics include “UMass Pride”, “Student Activism & Expression”, “Sleep”, “Nutrition” and “Men & Masculinities Center.”

The program will also have daily themes such as “Success Sundays”, “Maroon Mondays”, “Together Tuesdays”, “Wellbeing Wednesdays”, “Think Fast Thursdays”, “Financial Fridays” and “Community Saturdays.”

Maria Elena Little Endara is a Collegian correspondent and can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LittleEndara.