New Student Orientation (NSO) celebrated several successes during the program’s pilot year. In the past, the program had been called the Academic Orientation Program, commonly referred to as AOP. Previously, AOP had been primarily run by one office, but this year Residence Education and Housing Services took on a larger role in revamping the program in an attempt to increase campus partnerships and overall student engagement.
The first change included relocating the program to be housed in North Neighborhood’s Mason/Abbot and Snyder/Phillips halls. For the past several years, AOP had taken place in South Neighborhood’s Case Hall. The move to North allowed South Neighborhood to focus more time and attention into the youth sports programs that take place in the neighborhood around the same time each summer. It also allowed for crucial renovations to take place in South Neighborhood, along with giving another neighborhood the opportunity to be showcased during orientation.
Assistant Director of Communications for Residence Education and Housing Services (REHS) Bethany Balks assisted with the transition. Her role was to collaborate with the North Neighborhood REHS team and the NSO office to support in-hall marketing and communications efforts, in an attempt to support students on their Spartan journey with the on-campus living experience.
“We watched the NSO team examine every piece of the orientation program to ensure they would help students successfully transition into college and pursue their academic goals,” says Balks. “REHS [was able] to oversee the housing and evening portions of the program and provide an experience that closely represents living with us in the fall.”
An immense amount of thought was put into the planning process to ensure students had an experience interacting with groups they could get involved with while at school. This included collaborations with multiple campus partners to provide activities that would actively connect students to resources and other engagement opportunities on campus.
Community Director for Mason/ Abbot and Snyder/Phillips Kelsey Skinner took on the task of coordinating events, partnerships and overseeing the staff of summer resident assistants (RAs) who staffed the program.
“Essentially, we took over after dinner, and then we had them until the next morning when they had breakfast,” says Skinner. “So a part of our goal was to kind of start to show them what it’s actually like to live on campus, and what their evening could look like as an MSU student.”
The RAs Skinner oversaw had one of the first programming tasks of the night, which included hosting a traditional floor meeting. While campus policies were discussed, the majority of the session included a question session, during which students could ask any questions they may have, such as discussing packing lists, and it also allowed time for the RAs to share their campus experiences and favorite places to go.
“They also did a few fun activities together, and those were in partnership with our communications department within RHS and the Live On brand,” says Skinner. “We did Bingo, so they could start meeting people. Some of the examples of squares were: find someone that’s living in your neighborhood, find someone that’s not from Michigan or find someone that speaks another language.”
This helped students start building community early on, according to Skinner. For orientation, students were specifically placed on floors near people who would be in their neighborhood in the fall. That way, they could start getting to know each other and hopefully make friends prior to their official move-in.
After the floor activities, students were given an opportunity to selfreflect with a postcard activity. Students were asked to sit down and write out something important they’d learned at orientation, something they wanted to remember to bring with them or a place they wanted to check out on campus after they arrived for the semester. Then, the postcards were collected and mailed back to the students in late July. This way, they could receive them just before move-in as a reminder of their time at orientation and of anything they might have since forgotten.
Another program collaboration was the Be Campus Confident session. Be Campus Confident represented the tour portion of training, in which students had an opportunity to learn about campus history and traditions, see classrooms, and learn about diversity, equity and inclusion opportunities at the MSU Union with MOSAIC: The Multicultural Unity Center.
“This was a really cool opportunity to partner with MSU Tours and show a little bit of North Neighborhood while also showing how to be confident on campus and how to navigate campus,” says Skinner.
While students explored campus, the RAs worked diligently to set up a plethora of opportunities for students to participate in activities and engage with one another.
“We really thought hard about, ‘what are the experiences that you have when you live on-campus?’” says Skinner. “So we worked with the University Activities Board [UAB] and The Impact radio station on campus. The Gallery, our dining hall, had crafts just like UAB always has craft nights. We did games, and we had Open Mic Night, and The Impact helped DJ. These activities aligned closely with things students could find during the year.”
North Neighborhood also took advantage of its large courtyard and the long summer nights and hosted several outdoor activities students could participate in.
“Outside, we partnered with Recreational Sports and Fitness Centers,” says Skinner. “We wanted to work with them to advertise the neighborhood fitness classes we have during the year, and we also learned that intramurals tend to have the lowest participation for first-year students because they don’t know about getting involved or how to make a team.
“From there, we worked with referees who helped facilitate volleyball and basketball to get people started on making teams and joining intramurals. We also had a bunch of yard games outside in that space.”
Additionally, NSO also partnered with the Residence Halls Association (RHA) to host a movie night in the theater in Snyder Hall. RHA provided the movie streaming service, which offers pre-released films students could enjoy alongside popcorn, beverages and their new friends.
NSO also worked hard to introduce topics surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion early on. One of the sessions included a partnership with the Intercultural Dialogues Program. Its goal was to start introducing the idea of open dialogue with a focus on building community across difference. This was a way to premiere the The Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience (MRULE) on campus as well as the Dialogue program, which encourages people to push their understanding of different cultures and backgrounds.
In order to combat students becoming overwhelmed by the amount of information and activities students experience at orientation, NSO also partnered with Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) to offer a session called Refresh. Refresh was structured to be a quiet, calming space that offered relaxing music and coloring pages. The room was also staffed with a counselor provided by CAPS nearly every night of the orientation program.
“We wanted to make sure students had someone to talk to,” says Skinner. “Sometimes they asked questions about CAPS, and other times they just enjoyed the quiet space.”
A lot of care and effort was put into making sure every student had something they could participate in. Essentially, the team wanted to give students so many opportunities to engage with their peers that they wouldn’t want to go back and sit in their room. The program had a strong emphasis in building community and making campus feel like home prior to move-in.
“We found out pretty quickly that when we cut programs off at 10:30, people weren’t ready for bed,” says Skinner. “So we did offer a lounge space in Snyder, and we’d bring games and some snacks and allow them to hang out longer in that space. And then the duty staff would clean up the games later.”
Part of the vision statement for the new orientation program includes introducing students to the MSU community while working collaboratively with campus partners. The updated orientation program proved to be a resounding success in these areas and will play a large role in structuring what the program will look like in years to come as the program grows and expands upon the accomplishments made this summer.