SJR Column: KickStart for New Students
You might think summer would be a quiet time on the University of Illinois Springfield campus, but the June-July calendar is teeming with activity including summer classes, youth camps, and a variety of projects needing completion before students return in August for the start of fall semester.
One of the pivotal summer activities has to do with new beginnings. For hundreds of first-year students accepted for the fall 2019 semester, that new beginning starts with summer orientation – a series of two-day “KickStart” events for new students as well as for their parents, family members and guardians.
According to Natalie Herring, Associate Provost for Enrollment Management, orientation, whether for freshmen or transfer students, is the crucial start to setting students up for success.
“Orientation is a big part of the overall admissions process,” says Herring.
“Though the first important lesson is to remind students they’re adults, orientation also introduces students to the people who are going to be their own ‘board of directors’— the folks who will help them succeed and achieve their goals.”
Higher education research has shown both academic and social integration are important to ensure students maximize their college experience. No one knows that better than Lisa McGuire, Director of New Student Orientation and Parent Relations, and mastermind behind the UIS KickStart program.
“For students coming directly from high school, among the biggest adjustments are acclimating to more rigorous academic expectations and time management,” says McGuire.
“Orientation provides opportunities to discuss these and other challenges as well as to become familiar with the tools and resources students can access to enhance their success.”
Orientation staff utilize a variety of experiences during KickStart including interactive, small-group discussions led by members of the “O Team” – a diverse group of trained student-leaders who make the experience more authentic and who ensure individual questions and concerns are addressed from the students’ perspective. Academic advisers work individually with each student to familiarize them with online course registration, explore majors and career choices and register for fall classes.
“Orientation provides the opportunity for us to build a relationship with the student,” says Tarah Sweeting-Trotter, Senior Director of Advising and Learning Support Services.
“It bridges the gap between high school and college so that students leave the experience more confident — knowing when they come back in August, the friendships they’ve started and relationships with staff and faculty will be there for them.”
The social aspect of this new beginning is also important, and the Campus Opportunities Fair introduces a variety of organizations and resources, including the Diversity Center, which provides multicultural programming, and Disability Services, which offers support for students with special needs.
With more than 80 student organizations, thriving campus recreation programs and a new Student Union serving as the hub for campus life, there are countless ways for students to broaden their social involvement, develop leadership skills and participate in volunteer activities. The “Downtown Springfield Adventure,” a highlight of orientation, introduces students and family members to businesses, restaurants and historic sites in the Springfield community.
The goal is to provide each student a sense of belonging both on campus and in the community – especially important to ensuring a smooth transition and, ultimately, persistence through the challenges every student faces during their college years.
Campus safety and security is a topic of significant interest during orientation for both students and family members. Women in college are at the age of highest risk for sexual assault and, though reported incidents at UIS are few, sexual assault prevention and reporting is seriously addressed during orientation and again during Launch Week in August.
Every University of Illinois student and employee is required to complete a Sexual Misconduct Awareness and Prevention Training each year. The UIS Campus Police department is staffed with officers who have full law enforcement authority and who work around the clock to ensure a safe and secure environment for all members of the campus community.
While students are learning about campus life, parents, family members and guardians have their own schedule of sessions and activities during orientation and meet up periodically with their student to check in. Popular sessions for parents and family members include a presentation by staff from the Health and Counseling Centers as well as a discussion about how family members can best support their student.
A session titled, “What Parents Want to Know,” features current students and parents, while a discussion titled, “What Faculty Members Want Parents to Know,” is led by faculty. Spanish language interpreters are provided throughout orientation for parents and family members who may need translation services.
It turns out a key factor in students graduating from college is their experience during the very beginning. KickStart helps ensure that beginning at UIS is both reassuring and enjoyable.
We can’t wait to see the hundreds of new faces taking advantage of all UIS has to offer this fall!
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois at Springfield