Office of New Student Programs welcomes incoming Tritons through virtual orientation
For decades, orientation has been a rite of passage for University of Missouri–St. Louis students – the point where attending college changes from a goal to reality. It marks a welcome-to-campus celebration and serves as the transition from future college student to a full-fledged Triton.
This year, COVID-19 necessitated a switch to remote learning and made traditional orientation and campus tours impossible, so the Office of New Student Programs changed gears in March to ensure incoming freshmen and transfer students could get the information they needed while remaining safe at home.
“It’s very different, but we did our best,” said Erin Sullivan, coordinator for New Student Programs. “They’re getting information in different formats, but they’re still getting a robust transition program.”
Providing a sense of connection can be difficult to accomplish via Zoom, but Sullivan and Director of New Student Programs Megan Green Simonds were determined to make it happen.
“It was trying to figure out, what are the necessities?” Simonds said. “We had to pick. We knew we were going to get a lot of questions about financial aid. We knew we wanted to connect them with their advisor and with orientation leaders.”
Connections were paramount to the orientation process, a crucial part of making students feel at home at UMSL.
Orientation sessions began with greetings from Elizabeth Eckelkamp, the vice provost for student success and academic innovation, and Natissia Small, the assistant provost for access and academic support. Then students broke into smaller groups based on their majors and met with an orientation leader.
Mallory Mason, a social work major, was one of 11 UMSL upperclassmen who served as orientation leaders.
“I wanted to help incoming students and build that personal peer-to-peer connection and help them with their new journey,” she said. “What I love about orientation is being able to start building connections, relationships, giving students advice and just being able to have that connection.”
Orientation leader Divine Akinjiyan, a double major in math and computer science, also looked forward to guiding new Tritons.
“There is nothing more rewarding than the feeling of helping incoming students transition to life at UMSL,” she said. “I knew that my experiences would be of help to future Tritons, and I wanted to help them build those connections at an early stage. Seeing the excitement on their faces gave me so much joy. Being able to assist them, build connections and share their excitement is an opportunity I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Throughout the rest of the day, attendees met virtually with faculty advisors to finalize their schedules for the fall semester and attended sessions covering financial aid, living on campus and a variety of other topics.
According to Sullivan and Green, students were anxious to learn about opportunities to get involved on campus as well as what the upcoming semester would look like.
“I loved how friendly and welcoming everyone was and how willing they were to help me,” said Zahria Patrick, an incoming freshman chemistry major. “My favorite part of orientation was getting to meet a few of my peers and advisors and getting to know a little bit about them before stepping onto campus. I appreciated UMSL trying their best to give us a genuine freshman experience amidst everything that’s been happening lately.”
Darcie Walker, an education major and transfer student, chose to attend UMSL because it’s close to her home and she heard good things about the university. She described her orientation experience as positive.
“What I found to be most useful was that I got to meet my orientation leader, who was in the same college as me,” she said. “I got to hear about her experience as an education major, as well as her overall experience at UMSL. She gave my orientation group a GroupMe forum that I have been using to ask her questions, and she has been very helpful.”
New Student Programs provided a wide range of resources for students to explore after attending orientation, including video modules with information about next steps and opportunities to ask their orientation leaders questions or meet with them virtually.
Orientation Canvas groups have seen a lot of discussion board responses from students, where orientation leaders connect with students and host virtual socials Sunday through Thursday evenings.
“What I enjoy most is being able to answer any questions that students have and being able to help make their transition to UMSL a little easier for them,” said orientation leader and elementary education major Kelsey Ginger. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your professors, tutors or peers.”
The goal of the sessions is to make students feel excited about starting college. For orientation leader Jasmin Watson, it’s a personal mission.
“I became an orientation leader because I was inspired to make students feel as welcome as I felt during my orientation,” said the communication and business administration major. “I enjoy seeing students participating and getting to know them.”
For this year’s attendees, though, virtual orientation left out one milestone: stepping on campus for the first time as an official Triton. Although virtual tours offer a preview, seeing UMSL’s campus in person provides a whole new perspective.
“This is a new journey, new experience,” Simonds said. “Some of our students come from different backgrounds, moving across states. They’re choosing a major and a passion that they somehow found along the way. It’s definitely a growing, developing kind of opportunity. How do you want to change as an individual through this process?”
New Student Programs will offer welcome-to-campus events for the fall semester, including curbside pick-up for a welcome bag containing a T-shirt, TritonCard, parking pass and more.
Follow New Student Programs on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to find upcoming events, or visit their website for Triton Take-off Weekend Welcome programming.
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