Orientation showcase overhauled for summer

The first day at a new school, much less a large university, is daunting. There are new sights and sounds, plus finding one’s  way around campus. Perhaps worst of all, while everyone seems to know where they belong, there isn’t always a sense of where a newcomer is supposed to be. Of course, finding like-minded students is always easier when they come to you.

Since 2006, USF has hosted a student organization showcase that provides first-year students exposure to the hundreds of groups and clubs at USF. This year, however, USF’s Office of Orientation has decided to remove the showcase from the upcoming summer orientation schedule. 

In a memo sent to USF student organization members, the Office of Orientation announced freshmen will instead visit fewer departments at the new Engagement Expo, rather than each individual organization at the traditional showcase. 

Office of Orientation Director Marnie Hauser said the decision to replace the organization showcase was made because the it suffered from limited space and an inefficient design.

In recent years, the showcase accommodated up to 90 organizations and featured around 40 department tables in the Marshall Student Center atrium near the end of the first day of orientation. However, Hauser said students typically get tired or hungry around then.

“In my experience, and in my department’s experience, a 17-, 18-, 19-year-old student who is in that position will choose not to choose to go to a table,” she said.

Hauser said new students’ limited involvement in the showcase became apparent after the office’s annual orientation assessment.

“We do assessments every year after our sessions, and we ask them if they attended the showcase or not, and a lot of them don’t even know what we’re talking about,” she said. “(Some) will say yes, but then you ask what tables they visited, and they couldn’t tell you.”

In an attempt to improve involvement at the 2015 summer orientation, Hauser said the  Engagement Expo should allow the university to take a more holistic approach to first-year engagement. 

Instead of directly representing a small percentage of individual organizations, the Expo would use umbrella organizations and departments to divide groups by interests. This, Hauser said, may provide a more complete picture of USF’s student groups and give new students more options in selecting groups related to their extracurricular interests.

She also said a lot of colleges have adopted the umbrella organization format to handle student involvement. This decision, however, mostly depends on demographics, and what works for FSU or UF, Hauser said, might not work for USF.

While the Expo will still take place in the MSC atrium, Hauser said the event will no longer take place on the evening of the first day, but at the end of the second. Students will now check out from orientation after academic advising and then go through the Expo before they leave. 

One drawback of the new system, however, is the individual student groups included in previous showcases received equal representation — a concern that Edna Miller, the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement’s Student Program Coordinator, said should not be an issue with the Engagement Expo. To organize more than 600 student groups into umbrella organizations based on similar interests or activities, Miller said each student organization will self-identify under approximately 15 categories. “Religious and spiritual life,” for example, would represent USF’s religious and spiritual groups.

New students would then search BullSync by organization category to find individual groups. An interest survey will also be given to first-year students to determine what organization categories they are interested in. Categories may range from “special interests” and “miscellaneous” to “multicultural community” and “fraternity and sorority community.” According to Miller, the “fraternity and sorority community” category, for instance, will contain over 40 different student organizations.

“These umbrellas are how we are helping students to make that decision where you say (they) ‘choose not to choose,’” Miller said. “The categories will help us be more concise in helping (students) to figure out what is available … and then categorizing to make sure everybody’s covered. So although all 600 student organizations won’t be there, we’re going to try to make sure they’re all represented in some kind of way based on how they have self-categorized.”

Before student organization members were notified of these changes, Hauser said she had a conversation with members of Student Government (SG), as well student organization advisers, on the general idea for the Engagement Expo and the removal of the showcase. 

Some of these SG members included student body president Jean Cocco, student body president-elect Andy Rodriguez and student body vice president Rhondel Whyte, who expressed similar thoughts about the changes.

“I served as an (Orientation Team Leader) three summers ago … so I’ve seen both sides of it,” Rodriguez said. “I knew how hectic (the showcase) was. I knew a lot of times it was very ineffective, a lot of times a lot of organizations wouldn’t come out and it was a logistical nightmare for the Office of Orientation.”

While these members of SG said they were positive about the Engagement Expo, Whyte had recommendations for the Office of Orientation for improving the showcase, such as working to allot individual representation to student groups like the old showcase system. He said orientation served as a great avenue for recruiting new members into his organizations.

“I wish we would have the same level of representation that was given in the past even though it was a logistical nightmare. It (gave) a lot of student groups different opportunities to express themselves and be represented,” Whyte said. “I wish we could’ve kept that old model, but I understand that need for change.”

While these changes will apply to the 2015 summer orientation, Hauser said she is not sure if this  model will apply to later orientations. To gauge the effectiveness of the Engagement Expo system, she said the Office of Orientation will assess the system throughout the summer and in September and October. Decisions for next summer’s orientation format are typically made by the end of October, and the Office of Orientation will also speak to student organization leaders and first-year students to determine what will work best for upcoming orientations.

“Will it be the same format? I can’t answer that because, again, from a success standpoint, you don’t know until you live it,” Hauser said. “We have committed to having conversations with the folks that are directly impacted by the changes and that are participating in the new process in September.”