Updated: Apr 26, 2021
Orientation is a make-or-break experience for incoming students. COVID-19 has left many universities to reinvent different elements of the student lifecycle, and orientation is no exception. At University of Nebraska-Lincoln, orientation leaders were halfway through training when the pandemic hit. Their in-person event was all about community building and making connections to help the new students feel at ease in their new home on campus.
Then they learned there would be no campus.
Julia DeLaRosa, Orientation Coordinator at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was faced with a challenge: “Where do we find that ‘sense of belonging’ piece? How do we get them connected to their peers? How is it that we can bridge the gap between the summer where everything is virtual to on-campus when they're showing up and needing to build those communities for themselves and feel that sense of security and transition to campus?”
They wanted to find the best way for students to engage remotely, which led them to Yellowdig. When it finally came time for the first online orientation to start, Julia and her team wanted to make sure they could rely on the experiences of the student leaders in the same fashion they did when the orientation was in-person. They wanted incoming students to learn directly from upperclassmen who have firsthand experience with the college. It was very important to maintain the dynamic between experienced orientation leaders and new freshmen, because there was an element of relatability that had always been critical in making new students feel comfortable and confident going into college.
How can you make a virtual classroom based new student orientation experience worthwhile?
To help create that same sense of belonging for incoming students during the online orientation, they baked the personal experiences of upperclassmen into the many modules freshman would be using. But they knew that would not be enough. There is a big difference between watching a video of an orientation leader talk about his or her favorite study spot and actually having a conversation with them. So Julia DeLaRosa and her team made sure to include Yellowdig links in all of the modules as well, with calls to action like, “If you want to meet other people, click here” or “If you want to chat with an orientation leader, click here,” to provide opportunities for students to interact with one another in a meaningful way. Being able to hop onto Yellowdig to engage with someone at any time allowed the students to have the kinds of conversations and make the kinds of connections they would have had their orientation been in person.
The ideal function of these leaders was to be model citizens within the community. Not only would they post prompts and initiate ice breakers and fun challenges, but they would also participate consistently in a meaningful way to set an example for the incoming students. They talked the talk and walked the walk. Leaders had the flexibility to make the cohort their own, but there was still structure. Julia and her office provided every leader with a content calendar with assigned pieces of subject matter they wanted covered. The subject matter could be as open as, “Talk about your favorite study spot,” which allowed the leader to make it his or her own, while still maintaining a degree of structure that ensured incoming students were receiving all the information they needed.
Introducing oneself online is a native experience to members of Generation Z. It was not long before there were rich engagements. Even though this orientation was not a graded class, Julia and her team were still able to drive participation with fun incentives, including Nebraska swag giveaways and sort of an "Easter egg hunt" with the corn emoji (Huskers). Freshman were eager to get involved in university activity even though the pandemic made it impossible to do so in person. With Yellowdig, they were able to get acquainted even though they had to be apart.
Learn how Yellowdig can build community amongst your new students by requesting a demo below: