Lia Sitrin, an orientation staff member, addresses future students in the Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre. Sitrin recently graduated from UB and this is her third summer working with orientation students.
Namhe Itegboje, leading group 13, and Malacchi Johnson, leading group 6, make their way out of the Center for the Arts to begin their small group sessions.
Orientation leaders Pooja Nattu (left) and Malacchi Johnson tell students they should call 716-645-2222 — not 911 — for emergencies on campus.
Jöel Marcellus leads an animated discussion, pointing to a blue light emergency phone. This is his second year working at orientation and returns this year as an “Orientation Team Leader.”
Published July 20, 2022
Summer just hasn’t been quite the same at UB without accepted students coming to campus for orientation, but this month, they’re back.
Orientation resumed in person on campus July 7 after being held virtually the past two summers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Two-day sessions will run on Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as Thursdays and Fridays throughout the month of July, when more than 3,000 students will get a preview of life at UB before they begin classes in the fall.
UBNow sat down with Matt Ardila-Weigand, director of orientation, transition and parent programs, to talk about returning to campus, virtual options and how the past couple years may change orientation moving forward.
This is the first time we’re offering summer orientation in person and on campus since 2019. The past couple years everything was virtual — asynchronous components, synchronous components. My staff spent a lot of time creating what I think turned out to be a really successful and pretty positive virtual experience, but we’re definitely excited to be back to in-person programs for most of our incoming students.
We do have a few reimagined sessions, but a lot of our planning this year was not so much about new sessions or programs, or things like that, but more about, how do we take the best of what we had and reduce COVID risk.
We have a lot of rotations going on, for example. Instead of everyone eating dinner at one time in one place, we actually have three different rotations over a period of three hours — those kinds of things. We’ve also made thousands of calls to students reminding them to submit their COVID vaccination proof so they’d be eligible to attend on-campus orientation. Behind the scenes, that has taken up so much of our staff’s time and effort that nobody will really see, but it’s just an interesting twist this year, which is very different — at least internally — from previous years. A continuing strength of the program, though, is our team of student orientation leaders who do an expert job of sharing their UB experiences in ways that guide and inspire our new students.
The response from new students attending the program so far has been excellent. They appreciate being on campus, hearing from faculty and staff, working with orientation leaders and getting a taste of life at UB before the semester starts.
We have never done a pandemic version of an in-person orientation before, so I don’t know how our no-show rates in the past are going to compare to this year’s no-show rates. We are registering about 490 students to each one of these sessions, but there seems like there has been more movement than in the past. As a result of that, students can come to a later session or choose an online-only version of summer orientation. We haven’t really provided that option in the past, but we’re sort of forced into providing that option.
This year the online options are all asynchronous, so it’s basically a series of modules and each module has these videos and text that cover a particular topic, like academics at UB, life at UB, etc. Most of the same outcomes are achieved but in a different format. This will all be supplemented by the on-campus Welcome Weekend experience in August.
In the past, we have had on-campus parent orientation programs, but this year — for pandemic reasons specifically — we’re not offering any on-campus programs for parents. We have what we call “on-demand resources” so parents can watch videos talking about academic success, paying for college, living on campus, etc. We also do some live one-hour webinars for families and we send them periodic emails.
To me, that’s something we have to think really critically about. I like that we have an online option. In my ideal world, I would have both options because I think some students can’t come to campus for COVID-related reasons but also for other reasons. If we can provide both the virtual option that we provided last year, for example, and the on-campus experience that we’re providing this year, that would be better.
If I had to summarize, that would be my primary lesson learned: Things don’t have to be one particular way. So how can we provide options and flexibility for students and their parents or family members in a way that meets their needs? No matter how much we think coming to campus in July is a really great experience and helps set students up for success there have always been people who can’t for whatever reason — they can’t get off work, they can’t afford to travel. Can we be more proactive in planning sort of a variety of options that would meet the same outcomes for all of those groups?