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Orientation moves summer sessions online, orientation leaders fear uncertainties

Some orientation leaders are worried that aspects of on-campus life won’t be reflected well through online sessions, such as learning USF chants and growing school spirit. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/OFFICE OF ORIENTATION FACEBOOK

Instead of being introduced to USF with the “Get Hype” chant from student orientation leaders (OLs) in person, incoming students will log on to sessions from their laptops this summer due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. 

USF Orientation Director Marnie Hauser and university spokesperson Adam Freeman did not confirm to The Oracle if orientation would be online by the time of publication.

However, a Canvas announcement sent to OLs on March 27 did. 

The Office of Orientation said the “USF System Orientation Offices have made the difficult decision today to move all domestic Orientation programming from May – August 2020 to a virtual learning environment,” in the announcement obtained by The Oracle.  

Online orientation will consist of a “two-part virtual session format,” with the first part consisting of “online modules which can be completed at the student’s own pace.” 

The second part of orientation will be live sessions held by OLs and orientation staff, with the content of these sessions still in the works.

“The Orientation team is diligently crafting these programs with the assistance of campus partners, advisors and administrators to meet the needs of the incoming generation of college students,” the announcement stated.

Even though the changes are unprecedented, a concern for some OLs is how the lack of in-person orientations will impact incoming students.

The OLs who have voiced their viewpoints have been kept anonymous as they have not been authorized to speak about the shift to online orientations. 

One former OL is worried about how students will be able to adjust to online courses and a lack of in-person interaction.

“I know how scared I was transitioning to college and how the friends I made at orientation helped me get out of my comfort zone and become who I am now,” they said. “I know it helped many of my previous students see that they are represented here.

“The biggest drawback I see students facing when partaking in online orientation is that this style is not the best for everyone,” the OL said. “It doesn’t equate to them getting the feel of USF, of its students, of its community.”

Even if students are able to contact their OLs while online, the former OL said they think “it won’t be the same.”

Another former OL said their biggest concern is that students won’t be able to form friendships and connections when they arrive on campus. 

“They won’t have the social network necessary for support during that first week to semester adjusting,” they said. “They might not even pay attention. I saw students every session go from complete strangers with what looks like nothing in common to best friends.”

While attending online orientation, students will be expected to meet with advisors, but exactly how is not yet clear. 

“We will look to immediately begin planning with our advising community to work collaboratively towards a solution that works for everyone involved,” the announcement said. 

In regard to reservations students and parents already have, the Office of Orientation hopes that as details are finalized, no reservations will be impacted.

“Students will still be required to ‘attend’ their Orientation session on their scheduled Orientation date and time,” the announcement stated. 

“We may see some date shifting and refunds over the long haul, but our intention was to also create a solution that minimized the impact on our VZ reservation system and our team who works closely with reservations.”

OLs have also expressed worries about how this change will affect their positions. The announcement made it clear that the job and what it entails are radically different now that the program is no longer in person this summer. OLs have been offered the chance to decide if continuing with this program is in their best interest. 

“We will provide OLs with the opportunity to consider whether or not they would like to continue to serve in this newly crafted capacity,” according to the announcement.

One OL finds difficulty shifting to this new reality.  

“It’s an unfortunate situation that we had to adapt to but no one would prefer what is happening over a real orientation experience,” they said.

Another OL said this could be a positive for families who would have had to organize “travel, living space for the duration of session, cost of accompanying family and things of that nature.”

A current OL said they see the online orientation option as a challenge for both the students and OLs.

“It will be harder on the OLs trying to find new ways to interact and make sure everyone is virtually engaged,” they said. “It is definitely nothing we expected and will be an interesting experience.”

The OL said they are also worried that some of the aspects of on-campus life won’t be reflected adequately with remote learning. 

“I believe the school spirit will definitely be impacted because new students won’t see the OLs collaborate or connect as much virtually,” the current OL said. “Aspects such as chants and other key USF spirit contributors won’t be reflected as much in orientation.”

Despite all the challenges ahead, the OL said that Orientation is trying to make the best of the situation. 

“The overall first experience of incoming students at USF will also be impacted as everything is so uncertain due to COVID-19, but we are also ready to give them the best experience possible with the given circumstances.

“At the end of the day, we work with what we got and our goal continues to be toward creating a seamless transition for the incoming students.”