[Zoe Segnitz, Director of New Student Programs]: The single thing that unifies all students at the point of orientation is that they’re here in pursuit of a degree. What that means for them may vary vastly. We have students who will be the first in their family have earned a four year degree, and others who don’t even see it as a big accomplishment because it’s been an expectation of them for so long. So it is an interesting challenge to bring all those people together in the pursuit of a degree, but orientation is a big culture building moment.
I would also say that people think orientation should be a big list of how-to’s. They picture us walking people through endless transactions. I understand the appeal, but nobody would tolerate that well at all. While we do prioritize making sure students know how to seek support when they need it, where to start later, when the time is right for a transaction, the focus is really on making sure that they have some comfort being here because it is really an academic onboarding packed with social opportunities for belonging.
[Title: The role of orientation leaders]
[Zoe Segnitz]: I’d say the number one resource available to students at orientation is actually their orientation leader. The resources that we inform them about that come into play later are really too many to count. In our training of orientation leaders, we give them lots of opportunities to reflect on their own college journey so far that by the time they’re welcoming new students to campus, they can really comfortably share about their setbacks so that they normalize failure and also help new students both expect failure and expect to regroup.
[Mady, Orientation Leader]: My first year, when I came to orientation, I was extremely nervous and when I left I was like, Wow, this is real! Like I’m actually coming to school and I’m actually going to be a Boise State student! Moving to a new school is obviously really scary, especially for students who are coming out of state, so we want to make sure that they have any questions answered that they might have and that afterwards that they feel like they have at least a couple of faces on campus that they can say hi to.
[Zoe Segnitz]: It’s exciting for me every year to see students go forward and really want to give generously to the people coming in to make them feel safe to explore. That goes back to being a learner, whether it’s by them normalizing their own failures or not, just their comfort with themselves. I think for these people up to show up to this community a bit more authentically and maybe to start informing the culture themselves.
[Title: Faculty as a key resource for students]
[Zoe Segnitz]: If somebody leaves orientation not understanding that faculty should be talked to, engaged with, and asked for help, they weren’t paying attention. Start with your faculty member. They may refer you to a different, more specialized area of campus, but starting there is important because then your faculty member knows that you’re seeking help.
[Susan Shadle, Vice Provost, Undergraduate Studies]: And so it’s important both for students who came to orientation and students who didn’t, to have the messages at orientation reinforced. It’s always good when you hear something more than once, and if you hear it from different places, it can be really helpful to say ‘Oh yeah, the university really means this.’
[Annelisa, Orientation Leader]: It’s a good experience for you to meet new people, connect, and really just see yourself being here as a student and being a learner, but also cultivating those like relationships with different students and different professionals around campus.
[Susan Shadle]: One of the things I’m especially attentive to for my first year students is recognizing that they’re just figuring this out and that one of the things that I can do is to help them along that journey and not feel like a little glitch has gotten them derailed, but in fact that we want them to be successful and that there are resources to help them.
[Zoe Segnitz]: And for the students who come and say ‘I really have no idea, like, I’m really not sure what makes me tick!’, honestly, those are some of our most terrified students. The ones who feel the most overwhelmed aren’t saying ‘I don’t know if I can hack at mechanical engineering.’ they’re saying ‘I don’t know! I don’t know what I’m good at and I don’t know what interests me most.’ Perfect place to be is a college campus.
[Title: Connect students to a resource-rich environment]
[Zoe Segnitz]: Like if we really have to say we did one thing in a day, it’s make sure students have fall classes. That’s a powerful act of retention, but also a way of saying like ‘You’re official, you’re a Boise State student!’ Orientation is only an effective act of retention if students leave feeling like they’re going to be okay here.
[Kirsten, Orientation Leader]: We give them resources and information so that way they are feeling comfortable and when they show up in the fall for classes, it’s also giving them a chance to make connections with people during orientations that where they have a familiar face when they show up and just making sure that they’re prepared for starting college and showing them what’s unique and special about Boise State.
[Zoe Segnitz]: So help seeking behavior is a huge piece of what we’re aiming to cultivate with orientation. We train our orientation leaders to tell stories about when they couldn’t solve it themselves and to also name the resource that helped them get out of a lurch. Sometimes that resource is a friend, but other times it’s specific offices on campus.
[Kirsten, Orientation Leader]: It’s important to come to make sure that they know where to buy textbooks or how to navigate college classes that might look different than high school classes or a previous college. Also giving them a really great social opportunity to meet other new students who are going through the same experience that they are going through as well.
[Lexi, Orientation Coodinator]: This whole two-day process is meant for their benefit. It’s meant to show them what Boise State is like. They get to be here in person, meet students who are in the same position as they are, and really get the chance to connect to students who’ve already been through orientation and been through their first year who could definitely help them and ease that process.
[Zoe Segnitz]: I think if orientation is one thing, it’s actually a culture building event where we invite students to contribute to how this place functions, to shape this culture.
[Susan Shadle]: Students are really interested in getting connected with other students. Their primary opportunity for getting connected to other people is in class, and whatever we can do to help students have that relationship rich environment everywhere they go on campus, that’s going to help them to be successful.
[End title: Boise State logo]