When New Student Orientation moved much of its services online in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it presented organizers with significant challenges. This was an especially challenging event to transfer online, especially since NSO has partially relied on in-person contact.
“One challenge that we have faced is making sure that students are secure in their decision to attend WVU, especially when they haven’t gotten the chance to necessarily visit campus,” said Katie Condon, director of enrollment management at WVU. “Last year, of course, with COVID hitting in March, there was a number of students that weren’t able to visit campus, and we did offer a virtual orientation.”
Condon supervised the orientation program through its online transfer last year and plans to do so again this year. She has played some role with NSO for the past five years, and she and her team planned to overcome some of the hurdles they faced last year through intuitive solutions.
“This year, there’s been limited campus tour opportunities throughout the entire year, so there’s more students who have never gotten to visit WVU that are deciding WVU without necessarily stepping foot on campus,” Condon said. “We’re trying to make sure they get all the feelings that they would on campus and be secure in their decision to attend WVU.”
Condon said that another challenge with virtual NSO was getting students to form communities. This, she said, would be solved with online events and limited in-person gatherings.
“In the past, we’ve done orientation leader webinar series. These were led by our orientation leaders on topic areas such as hiking or best foods in Morgantown,” Condon said. “And [we’ve been] encouraging students to attend those small events where they can get to know students with similar hobbies and priorities, and that were going to be living in similar areas.”
George Zimmerman, assistant vice president of enrollment management, was also excited about the potentials for this year’s NSO, although some features remained in doubt.
“We got some great feedback from students who completed the New Student Orientation online program,” Zimmerman said. “We are hoping that as restrictions allow, we may be able to bring students for a complimentary program… an opportunity to meet new incoming students, but we’re not sure if that will happen.”
The NSO planning team reports directly to Zimmerman. This committee meets to discuss the needs of students and how they are being met.
“We did work with our college partners and the college advising offices to re-work some of the academic sessions based on feedback from students within the platform to make them a little more clear and engaging because online can be challenging,” Zimmerman said.
One of the ways Zimmerman and his team responded to this feedback was by trimming the fat from online sessions.
“Students don’t like to sit for long periods of time on Zoom sessions or doing virtual coursework,” Zimmerman said. “They spent their entire day in virtual classes... and so we’ve just kind of tightened up our timeframe that we offer some of the information in to make sure that we’re delivering what’s expected.”