Freshmen orientation focused on student engagement

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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After several quiet weeks, the University of Iowa campus was once again buzzing with activity Monday as incoming freshmen poured in for Orientation.

The students bounced down the streets with new friends as parents anxiously looked on during the first Orientation sessions Sunday and Monday.

Jon Sexton, the director of Orientation Services, said the department's main goal this year was to keep the students consistently excited and engaged. One of the few changes officials made to the program this year was focusing on sustainable practices.

Sexton said students received a streamlined packet of information this year and received a rubber USB bracelet rather than a hard copy of the Black and Gold Handbook.

Sexton said the USB has information stored on it which links to the new first-year experience website. The USB route is an attempt to significantly cut down on the amount of paper used during Orientation.

Students also received a Z Card, a smaller pocket-size map and resource guide.

Sexton said this new development came after past freshmen said the old yellow maps made them stick out on campus.

Orientation Services continued its Explore Iowa tour this year and introduced students to locations on campus that often go unnoticed.

"Explore Iowa is more than a tour," Sexton said. "It starts a conversation. Students go to key areas on campus like the Old Capitol … and other sites that students don't know about."

There are typically 16 students in each small group at Orientation. Roughly 300 students will have attend each of the two-day Orientation programs this year, Sexton said.

The infectious energy of the Hawkeye guides — current UI students who lead Orientation small groups — filled the IMU on Monday as they worked with the new students.

"I actually really liked the Orientation," said Michael Robinson, an incoming student from Cary, Ill. "[I liked] how they kept everybody hands-on with what we were doing."

Michael Barron, the director of UI Admissions, said the class of 2016 will have roughly 4,500 students. Forty-six percent of students are expected to be in-state, 45 percent out-of-state, and 9 percent from foreign countries.

"The numbers will fluctuate a bit over the summer due to changing student/family circumstances," he wrote in an email. "… [But] this is very similar to last year's entering class."

Hawkeye guides led students around campus during Explore Iowa, and several said they enjoyed sharing the students' enthusiasm.

"My favorite part is watching the first-year Hawkeye guides, all of the adrenaline and camaraderie," said Hanna Wright, a returning Hawkeye guide. "It's a fun dynamic to see, and the students are really excited."

Alaa Elsheikh returned for her second year as a Hawkeye guide as an inside greeter.

"I got to separate the parents from the students for the program," she said. "There was some anxiety, and some parents cried, but overall, it was great.

Beth Edwards, who accompanied her daughter Kelly to Orientation, said she found the program informative and enjoyable.

"I think it's been a fabulous experience," she said. "She is one of my first to go, so it has been a great opportunity."

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