The waiting game
Having completed orientation seasons at two large, public institutions that invited between 300 and 450 students per session, I have often wondered hot to best deal with the problem of so many students, so many activities, so many lines. It seems to me that different programs find different ways to keep students and guests busy as they wait for everyone to get checked in and ready to start the meat of the program. At SJSU students check-in and then go through the process of dropping their stuff in the residence halls, going to get their student ID picture taken, playing SJSU trivia and then completing a bookstore tour, before they are lead over to the resource fair, which in my mind is the first event that starts to get them oriented to the campus. My biggest complaint about this system is that it is always an adventure in crowd control trying to keep people moving along at a decent pace, but not moving to fast and finishing before our next event starts. Those of us in charge of activities later in the series want the check-in folks to go slowly so we don’t have to hold massive groups at our areas. Check-in folks want to start early so they don’t have to look at large lines developing in their areas. Basically I’m left wondering whether it is better to have people wait in one line for a longer period of time or to have them waiting in shorter lines throughout the morning. There are multiple components to this question including location, amenities at the location, and number of staff on hand. For example SJSU’s check-in is outside and the lines usually start to snake around and in between buildings, at a certain point check-in must start because otherwise the lines become troublesome for other visitors and students and they also become fire hazards. We found that having a cart with free water and coffee in the lines keeps many people cheerer. There are also a lot more staff members at check-in, which would imply that they can deal with more people and longer lines than those staff members who are alone or in small groups at other locations.
When I worked orientation at CU-Boulder I remember there being a breakfast available to students who came early and that the first event was the welcome, where the schedule for the next two days was explained in detail. At SJSU the welcome is not until after lunch. I find this problematic because students and parents spend the first few hours of the day not knowing how the day will progress. Once again this may be a question of location, this year has seen a number of venue changes and with that my supervisor may have been hesitant to have people waiting around outside for an hour for the welcome to begin.
I’d be hard pressed to say that waiting in lines is a good way to start out a college career and I would never purposefully create them within an orientation program. However, they are an opportunity for students to start talking and finding out more about their classmates. Also, as long as students aren’t waiting alone, a few staff members can always answer questions they may have and/or get them pumped up for the rest of the day’s events. New students need to be patient and on a big campus realize that they are one of many and that their needs will sometimes be put aside for the good of the group. This might not be the ideal time to be confronted with these lessons, but until checking in hundreds of students becomes magically quicker, playing the hurry up and wait game will be part of orientation.