By: Courtney Lyons, Contributor
At the Undergraduate Student Association’s first senate meeting of 2024 last Friday, Title IX Coordinator and Associate Dean of Students Debbie Owens presented a new orientation format for first-year students and their families. Instead of the typical assemblage and coordination of 450 students and their families between move-in day and the first day of classes, orientation will now consist of four separate overnight sessions between July 7 and July 20, 2024, with each student attending only one session. Commuters and residents alike will lodge overnight in Frisch Residence Hall.
With only 110-115 students per session, Owens and Canisius Admissions hope to remedy their biggest qualm with the former orientation method: lack of student engagement. Owens cites the unfortunate disconnect between first-year students and administration and states, “We would like to engage our first-year students sometime after Accepted Students Day in April but before they begin classes in August.”
Not only does the new orientation program offer more communication with Canisius faculty, but it also ensures incoming students have more time with current Canisius students — the orientation leaders (OLs) — and each other. The time-constrained, ultra-structured schedule of August orientation “didn’t allow necessarily for the orientation leaders to really have good moments of engagement with the students,” said Owens. OLs were akin to supervisors, being merely responsible for transport and management duties, instead of fulfilling their true role as uniquely-suited guides with valuable insight into the institution.
Owens states that the overnight portion provides incoming students with “some actual engagement time that’s not the structured ice breaker.” She was the first to acknowledge that students may find grievances with that arrangement but believes that this “unstructured social time” in residence halls will be “a good experience for them. They will get more of the full, natural college experience.”
There were also significant logistical challenges Owens, along with Canisius Admissions, attempted to address with the change because, “When we’re trying to do all 450 to 500 first years at the end of the summer, with all of their parents and families, we really don’t have the space for that.” Owens argues, “I can do more and I can do better with them in smaller groups,” because the intimate setting “give[s] us the opportunity to do a little more active and interactive sessions.” With a large group, lecture — rather than diversification of presentations — prevails.
The tentative schedule consists of two nights and two days. While the first day is merely an evening to check in and mingle, the next (and only full) day will revolve around standard orientation presentations for students and their families. This includes a “neat” plan by the Griff Center’s Student Success Coaches to meet with students in small groups and finalize class schedules or attend to other pertinent needs. For the final half day, Owens hopes to complete a service project, planned with the help of New Buffalo Institute Director Shana Richardson, that will connect students with the community around our campus early in their matriculation.
The first year of college can be a daunting feat. For many students, it is their first time away from home, where they are immersed in an unfamiliar environment. Yet, the enthusiastic Owens’s emphasis on the orientation being “relaxed” and “leisurely” is sure to allay first-year student apprehensions.