Mom’s shepherd’s pie, Indian curry, and bacon may not have a whole lot in common at first blush, but in Room 304 at CCV-Winooski, they’re connected.
“I’m going to throw the yarn to someone, and when you catch it, you have to say your name, your major, and your favorite food,” CCV student and orientation leader MaryAnn Maalin said. “It will start to look like a spider’s web, and you’ll start to see how connected we all are at CCV.”
That’s the first exercise new students participate in when they attend new student orientation at CCV-Winooski, and within five minutes, Maalin had indeed created a web that connected 19 students, and their favorite foods, to one another. Although each of the College’s 12 academic centers and its Online Learning Center kick off orientations differently, they all end exactly the same, with students who attend feeling much more comfortable and prepared to tackle their first semester at CCV.
That’s the goal, says Kate Hughes, an academic coordinator at CCV-Upper Valley and co-chair of the Student Success and Retention Committee. According to Hughes, who spearheaded the development of the College’s new online orientation materials, the program is specifically targeted to provide students with the resources and information they need to successfully navigate CCV.
“There is a lot to figure out whenever you find yourself in a new place—how things work, the terminology people use, the expectations people have of you, what tools and resources are available. It’s easy to overlook those things if no one tells you about them,” Hughes said. “Orientation is designed to eliminate the mystery. It gives new students a tool kit and we’ve learned can make a difference in how successful they are in college.”
The data available shows that this is, indeed, the case. CCV regularly surveys new students to gauge the effectiveness of various support services. Results have shown that students who attend orientation are significantly more likely to know about and use the many resources available to them, such as CCV’s free tutoring options. Over the past three years students who attended orientation utilized tutoring services at more than double the rate than those who didn’t attend. Additionally, students who attend orientation consistently return for future semesters at higher rates.
“The orientation data is really promising. It’s the driving factor behind our commitment to getting more students enrolled in sessions before they start classes,” Hughes said. “We’ve made some important strides. Over the past three years we’ve seen a steady increase in orientation attendance at all of our centers. And we believe the introduction of an online option this spring will allow us to reach even more students.”
Perhaps most importantly, students who attend orientation see real value in the experience.
“Ninety-five percent of students who’ve attended orientation at CCV recommend other new students do the same. That’s a pretty great number—and one that’s been consistent for several years,” said Hughes.So how helpful is it? Very. First and foremost, any college’s intranet is bound to be confusing when you first login, and CCV’s is no exception. The portal, as it’s called at CCV, is the gateway to everything. Need to find textbooks? Portal. Contact info for your advisor? Portal. Find a ride share? You get the picture.
While it is possible to just login and find your way around, having someone show you exactly how to find your syllabi, check the status of your financial aid, and look up your grade in a class makes the process easier and quicker.
Beyond this, there’s real value in becoming comfortable with your physical surroundings before the first day of classes said Benjamin Benedict, a new Winooski student who plans to study geology.
“I really just wanted to learn everything about the school,” Benedict said during an orientation session last week. “I wanted to get the grand tour, and hopefully I won’t be as lost when I get here for classes.”
Those same thoughts were echoed by Alison Desautels, a second-year University of Vermont Student who is in the process of changing majors. The switch from nursing to business, she said, had opened up the opportunity for her to take some courses at CCV. Even though she has spent a year at UVM, a much larger institution, Desautels said she still wanted to attend orientation.
“I’m taking two classes here and my advisor told me about orientation,” she said. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to see the building and get familiar with the resources.”
And finally, there’s something to be said for seeing a familiar face when you show up in a new place.
“Many students are initially motivated to go in order to learn more about how CCV works, which orientation certainly provides, but they often leave with something else that can be just as valuable—a sense of community,” Hughes said. “It’s reassuring to walk into your first class and see a familiar face. That’s more likely if you’ve been to orientation.”