Ever since the early days of higher education in the United States in the 1600s, colleges have had "orientation" experiences of some type to help new students make the transition from home to campus life.
In recent years, colleges and universities have adapted their programs to include one- or two-day programs in which students and parents visit campuses, learn about programs, take tours and have the chance to meet with students, faculty and administrators.
Lander University's First-Year Orientation has long been an integral part of the collegiate experience, and it will remain so in spite of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous years' programs, which included several days of activities and overnight stays, now has a "hybrid model," offering a traditional in-person visit, on one day, or a virtual session.
Regardless of a student's selection, all sessions are designed to ensure that students and families have an opportunity to learn what Lander has to offer, while giving all participants a taste of what to expect during the important first year of college, said Dr. Demario L. Watts, director of Student Activities and Orientation Programs at Lander.
While the pandemic has presented some interesting challenges, the University is determined "to step up and help one another through unprecedented times," he said.
Watts praised Lander President Richard Cosentino and the administration for their response to "making sure all of our community is safe."
Having the hybrid model enables Lander to continue its popular welcoming event, while also keeping incoming freshmen and their families healthy by practicing social distancing measures to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. "It is important to give our incoming students the opportunity to gain more information and be welcomed into the community. Orientation is imperative to any first-year student, and we are excited to give our incoming students the chance to begin their Bearcat experience," he said.
"During orientation, students and families are introduced to welcoming campus partners, gain information regarding their academics, discover what resources we have to aid in their individual success and have questions answered by Lander's Wellness Center and Campus Safety staff," Watts said. "We want students and families to get the information they need and feel confident in their selection to spend the next four years here."
The in-person orientation will have multiple information sessions for each student and one family representative. These sessions will take place the weeks of July 20 -23 and July 27 - 30. Students and parents will have the opportunity to purchase lunch on campus and buy their Lander gear in the Bearcat Shop.
The virtual orientation, which is 100 percent online, was added for students and family representatives who live out-of-state and cannot make it to campus for an in-person orientation, or for those who may not feel comfortable coming to campus before fall. Virtual orientation is scheduled June 29 and 30 and the week of July 13 -16.
"The virtual orientation is slightly different. We know that it is difficult to conduct an all-day orientation plan for those who are sitting in one place at home," Watts said. "We will have a brief overview and make available resources online to be visited 24/7. Each virtual orientation group will have an opportunity to meet with our Orientation Leaders through a group connection session. This is always the most popular portion of orientation, and we plan to have that as a part of the virtual experience."
Lander's "virtual friends" are encouraged to reach out via email with questions to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Updates will be made to www.lander.edu/orientation.
Students from all orientation sessions will be required to complete the "Preparing for College" modules in Blackboard, Lander's online course management system.
The beginning of the 2020-21 academic year will begin with "our big move-in days, as well as our Launch into Lander events, beginning Aug. 12 and continuing through the first week of classes," he said.
Even though Lander has made slight changes to college life because of COVID-19, "we want each student to know they are a part of a bigger family that will support and care for them throughout their educational experience. Lander is a home away from home, and we look forward to everyone's arrival this fall," Watts said.