Reflection of Competency 1
One of my main goals for choosing a National Orientation Directors Association (NODA) internship was to learn about the goals, trends, and key issues related to orientation and first-year programming. I wanted to understand the rationale for the various activities and sessions that first-year students went through as part of their orientation experience and how this programming had changed to reflect the data and trends of incoming students. I also wanted to gain knowledge about the specific ways in which a large, urban campus meets the needs of its students. The hectic nature of the orientation season provided very little time for me to meet with my supervisors and explore these issues. I did have the benefit of wrestling with these concepts with another NODA intern, which was quite helpful and allowed me to put my academic coursework into perspective.
I believe that one of the most apparent goals of our orientation sessions was to try and make each and every student feel connected to SJSU. The first goal was brought to life by the various programs done to engage students in various aspects of the university. For example, the resource fair provided them with the opportunity to learn about student organizations and employment opportunities as well as talk with representatives from housing, financial aid, and academic tutoring. Special interest sessions allowed students to get an in-depth understanding of various programs and services available to them including EOP, Career Services, Service-Learning, and Study Abroad. Students were also introduced to Orientation Advisors (OA) and were placed in a small group with a specific OA that they meet with three times on the first day. This peer-to-peer interaction helped students feel like they were already starting to build a community at SJSU and could look forward to reuniting with their friends when they came back in the fall.
A second, important goal of our orientations was to make new students feel confident that they would have a successful first term. Many of the activities listed above overlapped to help out with this goal. Getting students involved in campus activities and informed about campus resources is necessary in order for them to be confident in their success. There were also several logistical issues like ensuring that all students left with their college ID card, knew where they could buy their books, when and where they could eat meals, (for some) where they would be living, etc. that were important in building up student confidence. Students attended two group academic advising sessions and left orientation with a fall schedule of classes. This provided them with more confidence in making progress with their academic goals and a more solid understanding of how the fall term would go. Some even got to meet with potential faculty members in their departments and start forming relationships that could benefit them well in their future academic careers. Students who were engaged in their small group discussions and made an effort to meet new people also gained confidence in their ability to continue meeting and befriending new people during the upcoming year.
Some of the trends I was hoping to observe and learn more about during my time at SJSU included increased parental involvement in their student’s college experience, students who attend more than one school’s orientation in order to decide where to attend in the fall, and how college decisions were being impacted by the financial downturn. At the time that I was completing my internship I did not feel like I had enough time to reflect on any of these issues with my supervisors or anyone else. However, now I can recognize a least a few bits of insight that I gained during my time at SJSU. While I think that many of these insights speak specifically to the university I was at, they are still incredibly valuable as I may encounter a similar environment again.
Despite the overall increase in parent specific orientation programming, SJSU’s program was very basic and not very parent friendly. Except for a few short, parent-specific programs, parents were either walking around with their students or had nothing structured to do. After dinner on the first day, parents were basically done. They could stay around but their students were required to stick with the program until late evening and then go straight to their residence hall rooms. There was absolutely nothing for parents to do on the second day while their students ate breakfast, attending a second advising session and registered for classes. Meals were provided but they were not of very high quality. Based on the amount of money that the parent program cost, I was not very impressed with what they received. With that being said, SJSU does not have as high a demand for the parent program as many other schools. For every one student that came through orientation, there was on average ½ a parent with them; this is compared to trends I’ve read about where on average at least one parent comes with every student. There are a couple of reasons why I think this may be the case. I think one of the biggest reasons is that the majority of students coming to SJSU are within a 40 or less mile radius of the campus. Many are from the bay area and therefore their parents probably don’t feel as great a need to accompany them to orientation. SJSU also attracts a significant population of first-generation college students. I think that this lends itself to lower numbers because parents don’t have experience going to college themselves and therefore don’t know that parents are allowed or encouraged to attend. First-generation students would also not know about this option and therefore not invite their parents. Others might feel like their parents won’t belong on a college campus and therefore don’t invite them. Along these lines, I found one thing quite problematic about the SJSU program. Parents were allowed to do “walk-in” registrations for the program, which on the surface sounds like a fine idea. However a significant number of “walk-on” parents did not speak English and therefore it was extremely hard to provide them with interpreters. Given the number of non-English speaking parents in the audience I think it would have been helpful to have had a reliable way of getting these services during each session. Lastly, I think that the cost of the parent program may have had something to do with the small attendance. This may in fact tie into the state of the economy and parents deciding that spending $80 for two dining hall meals, a folder of information, and two parent-specific programs was just not good economics.
I will say that a small number of the parents who did come were highly invested in their student’s academics. There were a number who tried to seek into academic advising sessions and registration labs in order to help their students and therefore we had to be on constant lookout for the crashers. Because I knew a great deal about the academic advising side of things parents would seek me out to ask whether or not their students was receiving the proper advise and I spent a number of hours addressing their concerns surrounding this and other issues. I found my time with highly involved parents to be some of the most rewarding and yet exhausting work. There were times when I wanted to simply say “you’re just going to have to rely on your student to make the right decisions now” and walk away, however when I maintained my patience and explained the basics to them, they often walked away satisfied and confident that they were not in the dark with regards to these issues.
I feel like economic issues had a large effect on the orientation program. When I first got there, I found out that a large number of students who had first been rejected from SJSU due to budget constraints were re-invited to attend via the new president’s leadership. This created a huge stir across the university as people wondered how they were going to provide additional resources to the re-admitted students who decided to come to SJSU. Given California’s budget crisis, staff members were also wondering whether or not they would be paid toward the end of the year. From the student side of things, I observed many students asking questions and being very concerned about finding jobs on campus and learning more about financial aid. Parents and students alike asked many questions regarding orientation fess as well as what student fees entailed. Parents who attended our evening student panel asked many questions about the actual cost of going to college (Did their students need to bring cars? Where did students work? Where were the cheapest places to eat?). Although there are increasing numbers of students attending multiple orientations before deciding on a school, I do not recall overhearing a lot of conversation that spoke to this trend. I think this may have had some connection to the economic downturn, which made it less possible to spend more than a couple hundred dollars simply to attend orientation sessions. Lastly SJSU saw an increase in the number of students enrolling in programs such engineering and nursing. These programs are career driven and require only a bachelor’s degree in order to make a decent paycheck. Therefore students found them quite valuable in the current economic environment.
If I had it to do over again, I would have arranged bi-monthly meetings with my supervisor(s) before I arrived or when I first got to SJSU. This would have allowed more time to properly discuss these matters in more depth. I can only assume that the connections I am making to goals and trends are well founded.