NODA Internship

Reflection on Competency 2

Posted on December 3, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

During my internship I had planned on learning about the transitional issues SJSU students faced when entering into the institution. In particular I was hoping to see what issues were unique to students at a large, urban institution. While I was not afforded the opportunity to ask students first hand what they were experiencing, I myself dealt with several transitional issues and will speak about my experience because I think it is in many ways similar to some students’ experiences. First off, for anyone coming from a small or medium size town, living, studying and carrying on daily business in the heart of downtown San Jose is daunting. As far as colleges go the university is quite compact but in many ways it looks and feels like part of downtown. Many of the buildings are tall and imposing and the pace of life is very fast. Dealing with the need to escape the city’s noise in order to study, sleep and maintain balance were key issues for me and also for many new students. It is also important that students recognize the plethora of distractions and ways to spend money that lay just a few blocks away from campus and find ways to avoid being overwhelmed by the pull towards downtown. Student must also develop “street smarts”. Some of the neighborhoods around the campus are not particularly safe and therefore knowing which areas are safe and which aren’t, general safety tips and how to utilize campus public safety are highly important.

I think that the one of the most unique and important transitional issues that many SJSU students probably face, is that of dealing with increased diversity among their peers, staff and faculty members. This issue not only relates to transitional issues but also the needs and goals of an extremely diverse student body. Particularly for students who are used to being in the ethnic or racial majority, SJSU can be an extremely daunting place. Each and every student will be attending class, doing group projects, getting involved in organizations and living with students from different cultures than themselves. Because this is such a universal experience among SJSU students I had thought that the school would devote a decent amount of programming to addressing issues of diversity during orientation sessions. While the acceptance of diversity was addressed in a few of the student life skits and also brought up during one of the small group meetings among peers, I’m not quite sure that it was enough information or well-timed. The conversation in small groups often centered upon what had happened during the skits and was held late at night on the first day, when many students were already tired and ready to relax. I’m not quite sure what type of programming would have been better or if it was wise to rely on OAs to lead these discussions. If nothing else I would have liked to have sat in on a few of their small group discussions with students to see how they addressed the issues surrounding diversity from the skits. However, I did not want to limit the peer-to-peer discussions or give up my one hour of rest during the 12+ hour day.

One of the things that I found interesting about SJSU was that they have a lot of ethnically based student organizations, Greek houses, and events. While this allowed for many groups to create smaller communities within the larger campus, these communities were far less diverse than the student population as a whole. Having reflected on this, I have two very different views on the matter. On the one hand, I belief that providing students with the opportunity to isolate themselves from the diversity of a campus like SJSU is counterproductive because these students will eventually have to go into the multicultural workforce and not know how to communicate, work, and accept people’s differences. On the other hand, I realize that as a white person, I have always been afforded the privilege of easily retreating to a place where I was in the majority. This retreat did not require a particular club, organization or event and therefore did not allow for others to critique it as isolationism or counterproductive. Therefore I am left with the belief that ethnically based organizations may be a need of institutions like SJSU. At the same time, if I were to work for a similar institution in the future, I would be interested to talk with leaders of the various organizations and create ways for them to work together and collaborate on projects. Collaborating could increase budgets, efficiency, and promote inter-cultural communication and understanding.

Another one of the populations of students that SJSU accommodates more than other schools I have attended or worked at is students that entered college needing English and math remediation. Academic advising programming is set up to address this group. At least 20 minutes or so of the first day’s advising meeting was usually spent addressing remediation issues. Student schedules were largely determined based on remediation requirements and orientation scheduling was often based around when students test scores would be arriving. Because of the nature of the test scoring timeline, some students came to orientation before their scores were in and therefore were unable to register. In addition, the large number of re-admitted students created a huge headache towards the end of the summer, when remedial courses filled up. Some students were unable to get into these courses during the first term and therefore were extremely limited in terms of course offerings due to prerequisites requirements. Having never been at a school where this was such a large issue, I cannot compare services or support for these students. If I were to work for a school that serves this population in the future, I would want to work to ensure that there would be enough openings in remedial courses to meet the needs of students. I also found it problematic that some advisors and others referred to students and remedial. To me this seemed rather insulting and could have a reverse affect of making students feel confident in their upcoming success. I was very careful to refer to remedial courses, not students whenever I referenced this issue. This is a population of students whose needs and issues I am more sensitive and thoughtful about now.

As far as relating our programming to specific student development theories, I think the most solid connections could be found in the area of student engagement and involvement. There was a great deal of emphasis placed on making sure students knew about all the ways to get involved on campus, both academically and through extra-curricular activities. I also think that a great deal of our programming addressed the various challenges that students may face when they came to campus and what types of support they could expect to get from SJSU faculty and staff. Although not as transparent as the others, I believe that the diversity programming and advertising of cultural groups provided students with venues in which to start exploring their various identities. Having the opportunity to develop community and celebrate one’s ethnic heritage is an important piece in this process and orientations provided students with a step in this direction.

Once again, I would have liked to have had more time to discuss these issues with my supervisors. I did get the chance to meet up with the Director of the SJSU Multicultural Center and discussed some of the issues with her. I also discussed several of these issues at length with the other NODA intern. Having bi-monthly meetings with my supervisor(s) would have been a great way to ensure further discussion about these issues.

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Reflection of Competency 1

Posted on November 30, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

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.

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Combating info overload/folder fatigue

Posted on September 16, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

Everyone who has ever working orientation knows the pain of stuffing endless information folders for students and parents. This summer I stuffed more than my fair share and I’m sure that factors into my feelings on the matter. I understand that departments and offices on campus want to get the message out about the services and programs they offer, however I question how valuable/retain-able this information is to orientation students in its current form. All told SJSU students receive 33 seperate documents (many two or more pages a piece) in their student folders and parents receive a similar number. While a handful of the information is specifically referenced during the two day program, most of it is information that we expect them to take home and read. I am very skeptical about how many of them do this and more concerned about how many of actually retain the information they are given. Ultimately, I think it is time to take a look at this process of information dispersal and revise it for the new NetGeneration students. These students are not in the habit of reading through a sea of papers to become completely aware of every program and service the university provides. Instead the majority of these students wait until they have a specific question and then go on-line to search for an answer. Therefore it may be more beneficial to give them a tutorial on the web directory and how to access various offices’ websites.

My other concern with having paper heavy orientation folders is that the information that is most relevant and important is often overlooked simply because it is swimming in a sea of supplemental materials. For example, one of the documents we provided was a guide to being safe on campus. Not only did this packet address an area that wasn’t covered enough during orientation it also provided info about something many students don’t proactively seek out. On the other hand, we also included a brochure about the bowling center in the student union. I did not think this was a proper venue for this info because students who were truly interested in this service would look it up on their own and most of them would find their way into the union for other activities and therefore learn about the bowling center.

I am quite certain that orientation folders will not go away anytime soon and support the idea that they are a good way to get out information about certain things to new students. I am equally convinced that orientation staff members must be more intentional about what they put in these folders and spend a bit more time considering the logistical nightmares associated with stuffing endless packets. While Michael Scott may believe in providing “unlimited paper in a paperless world”, I do not think that universities should follow suite.

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NODA Internship Learning Contract

Posted on August 8, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

Learning Contract for NODA Internship 08′ at San Jose State University

Department: Student Involvement, Orientation and Transition (OAT) and Academic Advising and Retention Services

The experiences I hope to have and competencies I hope to gain during this internship include:

1. Knowledge of Higher Education and Student Affairs

  • a. Goals, trends and key issues related to the future of the student affairs profession (in particular those of orientation, first-year programs and retention)

2. Student Development in Higher Education

  • a. Transitional issues faced by students before their tenure at San Jose State
  • b. How the OAT team along with Academic Advising address the needs of a diverse student body including, but not limited to age, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity, race and ethnicity, language, nationality, religion or spirituality, sexual orientation, ability and preparedness
  • c. How specific student development theories are incorporated into OAT and advising procedures

3. Leadership

  • a. Fiscal resource and budget development
  • b. Supervising and evaluating orientation leader performance
  • c. Help plan and facilitate staff training and meetings
  • d. Legal issues critical in guiding and influencing practice
  • e. Campus climate issues and how they affect OAT programming

4. Multicultural Awareness

  • a. Ways in which OAT challenges and supports individuals and groups (orientation leaders and first-year students) to maximize multicultural sensitivity.

5. Program Planning

  • a. Oversee implementation of all advising and registration aspects of Orientation
  • b. Assist in preparation for Transfer Information Program
  • c. Market program appropriately
  • d. Evaluate the effectiveness of the program

6. Individual, Group, and Organization Communication

  • a. Positively manage, develop and engage in working relationships with faculty , staff, and students across functional and institutional boundaries
  • b. Participate in working alliances and teams with a wide ranger of people across cultural boundaries
  • c. Serve as advocate, counselor, and/or advisor to students and student groups
  • d. Manage and/or mediate conflict, crisis, or problematic circumstances

*Progress on meeting these goals and competencies will be recorded in a weekly journal and reflected upon with Emily every other week.

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Better late than never, right?

Posted on August 5, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

Should students who come to later orientation sessions be penalized for doing so? At SJSU seats in classes are not put aside for each orientation session. [While I’m sure there are many factors that have gone into the creation of this policy, I think that one of the reasons SJSU can do this is because the majority of SJSU students are from the Bay Area and traveling to orientation is not a huge monetary or logistical problem for them. At schools with a much larger out-of-state population I’m sure that this policy would be met with a lot more criticism.] This means that students who register in later sessions have fewer and fewer options to choose from. Having successfully advised hundreds of students during registration I can safely say that it took a lot more preparation and resourcefulness to get students in the last orientations into classes that they needed and were prepared to take.

One of the biggest problems I ran into at SJSU was adhering to Executive Order 665. This order requires that all future Cal State students take entry level math (ELM) and English placement tests (EPT) before entering the university. SJSU admits a large number of students who are considered remedial based on their test results and these students are therefore required to take specific courses to take care of their remediation. Not only are these students required to take specific English and math courses, but they are also limited in the number of other courses they can take. For example, a remedial math student can’t take courses such as chemistry, economics, or life science. While this makes complete sense, it creates a number of limitations when it comes to registration. At the end of each orientation session every student had a full schedule of classes, but some were wait-listed for classes they technically HAD TO take in the fall and many had to settle for their third, fourth or fifth choice when it came to General Education (GE) courses.

One of the ways that we tried to prepare for the later sessions was to pull numbers of available seats for heavily required and recommended courses. This was a tedious process, particularly collating the data, but advisors seemed to appreciate the information. Some read off open sections to their students, some printed off copies for their students, some used the info sparingly, but at least they knew the extent of class availability before they headed into the registration lab. Another step that we took to try and help students out was to spend extra time showing them how to do a general search for open sections of classes vs. simply imputing class code numbers. This was not always the easiest process to try and explain, particularly when students were already chopping at the bit to get the labs, but for those who listened it was a valuable tool to have.

One of the question I’m left with when it comes to advising orientation students is whether or not advisors should amend their presentation based on current class status or continue to give the same presentation throughout the season. For example, at the beginning of the summer the Fall registration guidebook that we gave out was rather helpful. All of the sections for all of the classes had available spots and students could be confident that except for some small changes, the schedules they built the night before registering could be theirs the next day. In the beginning registering was simple, class codes could be used to pinpoint a specific course, specific section, specific time and date. Because all courses were available it was imperative that students understood which courses would count for multiple GE units, which courses were preferred by certain majors, etc. However, as more and more students registered for classes, more and more sections closed and the registration guidebook became rather archaic in nature. Asking students to create schedules and explaining course codes seemed unnecessary because no matter how many schedules they created, they were going to have to rework them entirely the next day in the lab. And once the courses that accounted for multiple GE’s were gone, advertising them seemed a bit futile as well. With this being said, I hesitate to say that I would change my presentation very much from the first to the last session. My main reason for saying this is because everyone needs to receive the same information so that they can be on par with one another when the next series of registration occurs. If an advisor chooses not to mention the multiple counting GEs simply because they are all gone, then students at later sessions can’t even plan on taking them in the spring or during their sophomore year. If students do not learn how to register using class codes that pinpoint their classes, they will have a much harder time registering once they become upperclassman. And learning to create schedules is one of the challenges and joys of being in college: “I get to pick what time I have math each day!”. In other words, I believe that while the circumstances in the labs may be changing, advisors must walk a fine line between amending their presentation to account for the changes and still providing all students with an equal and fair advising session, even if they don’t have equal access to classes.

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The waiting game

Posted on July 31, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

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.

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University Image and Branding

Posted on July 17, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

Today in our Student Involvement staff meeting I learned about San Jose State’s new image and branding campaign. All and all there is a 60 page booklet that shows the one and only logo that student organizations can use on their publications as well as the font they must use for all text documents, as well as the required he color schemes and patterns to be used. The report garnered a great deal of laughter from the group as a whole, but there was little discussion about why the changes were being brought about. Granted a discussion was unnecessary because the changes had already been done, but I could have definitely used more info. From what I gather the decision has been in the works for over 10 years now and many other schools have similar booklets with similar regulations. In other words, this is the wave of the future in higher education, not the oddity it at first seems to be. While I do not feel knowledgeable enough to make any comments on whether or not this imaging and branding is inherently bad or good, I do want to voice my feelings on the matter.

It seems to me that one of the main reasons for all the new regulations is so San Jose State becomes more like other well-known and well-respected universities that have already gone through similar processes. The administration wants San Jose State to be a leader among U.S. institutions and as such wants the one and only logo to be recognized around the world as a sign of high quality education. Of course, none of this sounds bad in theory, but my question is what else is being done to promote the improvement of academic and extra-curricular activities to make SJSU a leader? Could the money that has been spent on advertising agents who pick out the best fonts, color schemes, and logos for the school be better spent on programs that actually create academic excellence and student involvement? From what I can gather the California state system (like many state systems) is losing money and programs are being cut and/or seriously underfunded. Isn’t developing a logo that represents high quality education before creating a high quality education putting the cart before the horse?

And even if my above concern can be nullified, even if SJSU could magically have all the money in the world and all the prestige of an Ivy League school, I’m left wondering what all these new regulations really do for student learning and development. Isn’t that what higher education is all about? Isn’t that the end game? If a student organization makes a poster that attracts new students to attend one of its events does it matter that the poster doesn’t follow the proper color scheme? If a univeristy offical doesn’t use the proper font on an email does it really take away the authenticity of the message?

Ultimately I think that this trend is just another example of higher education being seen and promoted as a commodity. Instead of choosing a college based on its programs of study, its extra-curricular activities, its academic standing… students are being encouraged to choose a school based on what image comes into their minds when they look at a logo.

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Do the words orientation and mandatory go together?

Posted on July 6, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

San Jose State requires that all incoming students complete all facets of the orientation program. In an effort to ensure that students stay for the full program student leaders take attendance multiple times during the first day, students are kept busy until 11 PM and then send directly back to the residence halls and are not given keys to the outside door. Additional steps are taken to ensure that students are never allowed too much time or freedom to wander off and miss vital or not so vital parts of the program.

I am completely aware of the rational for having an absolutely mandatory program. I am sure that if certain parts weren’t mandatory most students would be skipping out on them and then they would fail to return or get lost and not make it to the truly vital parts, like registering for classes, receiving advising, getting their student IDs, etc. It is much easier to have one standard for everyone and create policies and procedures that reflect that standard. Despite my understanding of this policy I am left with some doubts, after all isn’t orientation supposed to be a introduction into being a college student? And isn’t college all about choice? After all, the most elemental thing about college, going to class, isn’t mandatory and neither are all the supplemental elements like getting involved in a campus group, going to professor office hours, using the library, or obtaining an internship. If college is all about choice, then why is there so little choice given to orientation students.

I have two answers that help me quiet these questions. One is that orientation students need to be aware of their new freedoms before they use them. Orientation should be a time where they learn about the fact that they don’t HAVE TO go to class, but that the consequences for skipping out can be dire. They need to learn about all the extra activities, clubs and services they can receive before they can go about deciding which, if any, they want to use. In other words, they need to be at all the programs we provide so that they can gain the best understanding of their new surroundings.

My other rationale for the mandatory program comes down to challenge and support. It would be a great challenge to let students make their way around campus by themselves, decide which sessions to attend and when to come back to the residence halls at night. However, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or orientation staff members available to provide all the support that would be necessary to ensure that all of these students could succeed in meeting these new challenges.  That’s why orientation has to be what it is: a chance to learn about all facets of college life, not a chance to live it.

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Creating a path towards success

Posted on June 26, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

Every single adviser I have talked to talks about creating freshman schedules that will help them succeed and not set them up for failure as new students at SJSU. I think that part of the reason that this idea is stressed so much is because a large percentage of SJSU students must take remedial math or English courses when they first enroll. Students must take the Entry Level Math test (ELM) and English Placement Test (EPT) before coming to orientation. Their scores on these tests (the SAT or ACT or AP tests are also sometimes used) determine which math and English classes students must enroll in during the fall term. While this seems relatively clear and aimed at ensuring that students are not in over their heads, other policies seem to contradict with this concept.

For one, scores on the ELM and EPT, high school GPAs, and other test scores have no bearing on what majors or colleges a student can choose between. A student who must take two terms of remedial math can just as easily major in engineering as a student who comes in with a perfect score on the SAT. In another case the pre-Nursing program at SJSU is impacted; this means that there aren’t enough spaces or resources for all incoming nursing students to go through the entire program. In their first two years of college these student must compete with each other for limited spots in upper-division courses. However, their high school work has no bearing on whether they can mark pre-nursing as their major of choice. I contrast that with my undergraduate institution where the College of Engineering had different admission requirements than the College of Arts and Science, which had different admission requirements than the College of Business. If a student couldn’t meet the more rigorous requirements they came in as pre-engineering or pre-business and had to work their way up. I’m sure there are benefits to both systems, but it is currently my belief that setting specific expectations right off the bat for certain majors makes the advising process easier and more honest.

Easy and honest in the sense that I won’t be looking at a student and telling them, “Yes we admitted you into this college and yes we knew that in all likelihood you’d have to drop out of it”. Easy because I won’t have to look at a student and tell them “There’s no way that you can graduate with this degree in four years”. Honest because I will be able to tell a student “You didn’t have the high school grades or test scores needed to get into your major of choice, however here are the requirements you need to meet in order to transfer into this major”.

I will concede that there are some pitfalls to this system. I am well aware that some students simply don’t test well and therefore their math or English scores may never completely reflect their knowledge. However, the first few years of college usually involve a number of tests and in compacted programs like nursing, tests will ultimately be what determines whether a student can move on in the major. I am also sure that their are some students who somehow make the magic switch and despite all signs pointing otherwise go on to be successful in their chosen field. The question as it so often becomes is how much support can we give a student who is challenged by a certain major and what support is best when the challenge seems too great? Is it better to let a student down easy and early or should we allow students to continue on in majors, colleges, careers until THEY recognize that these things are no longer feasible?

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The Student Staff Tight Rope Routine

Posted on June 21, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

I think one of the greatest challenges for orientation directors is hiring student staff members hereby referred to as orientation leaders (O.L.s) who can successfully walk the tight rope between peer mentor and staff member. On one hand we are asking these students to gain the trust of incoming students and as such we expect them to be approachable, friendly and for lack of a better word, cool. We want our O.L.s to be liked and respected by incoming students because they are the ones who ultimately have a great deal of influence over whether or not a new student feels connected to the university. Yes, staff can answer their questions about what classes to register for, or where they can go to find out about financial aid, or when to pay their student fees, but O.L.s are the ones who impart on them what it is like to actually be a student. At the same time that they are gaining trust among incoming students, we are asking them to act professionally and represent the university in a positive, professional manner. In some cases this requires that O.L.s act as authority figures among incoming students and do/say things that are in contradiction to their role as new friend and confidant. I believe that the most successful, trusted O.L.s are the one that become comfortable dealing with these moments of dissonance and contradiction.

So how does one go about finding students who will be able to deal with the task ahead? I think that students who have successfully dealt with some type of personal or professional conflict in the past are more likely to have the tools necessary to handle the stresses associated with being an O.L. Students who have gone through the process of developing a new identity while in college, struggled with finding an appropriate major or career, and/or faced the challenges of being a student leader for another campus group are likely to handle their new role as O.L. with greater success than those who have not been in such positions. It is important to ask potential O.L.s questions about how they have handled conflict (within themselves or with others) in the past, how they deal with contradictions and to ask them scenario based questions that gauge if they can walk the O.L. tight rope. It is also important to recognize that students who have been in college for at least a few years are more likely to have developed the skills and critical thinking necessary to be a successful university representative. While it is important to have students at various stages of their education on staff, upperclassman should be sought after not only for their more thorough knowledge of the university, but also for their developmental skills.

This entry leaves me questioning how orientation directors go about recruiting and hiring their student staffs. I’d like to know what kinds of questions students are asked. Whether or not scenario questions are used and/or helpful. I’m aware that it is important to not only hire students who will do a good job, but students who will grow from the experience. The question is how to balance student staff growth with a solid orientation team. In the end it all comes back to challenge and support. How much support can we give O.L.s that are extremely challenged by their new positions and how long can we support them before it begins to interfere with the quality of the orientation program?

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