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UI On Iowa third year shows growth and success

BY EMILY FRIESE | AUGUST 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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Despite a three-year track record, University of Iowa officials say a nearly 2,000-student participation jump in a student welcome-week program can be credited much to a slew of recent adjustments.

The OnIowa program’s student participation jumped from 3,000 in 2012 to around 4,700 this year.

From Aug. 21 to Sunday, students attended events in order to help them transition into a college community, get familiar with their resources, and meet new people.

This year, officials emphasized growing the program forward since its inception in 2011 through a number of new participation initiatives.

Kathryn Sojka, the UI director of new student programs, said OnIowa staff completes extensive assessments to receive feedback from participants across the board, including focus groups and surveys with student leaders and various committees.

“We want to make sure we’re making improvements every year that meet what people want.” She said.

Andrew Beckett, an assistant dean in the Provosts Office who works on retention, said the program is about trying to let incoming students know what options are available on campus and the steps needed in order to get involved.

“The difference between high school and college is that you have to seek those resources out,” he said. “Now, we can push them toward you …”

While numerous factors are used in determining the UI’s student-retention rate, Beckett said, OnIowa is just one piece of the puzzle.

“Our society is really good about locking in on impact,” he said. “Students often drop out for personal reasons: a parent dies, a student gets mono, and there are many other issues that influence that decision.”

After receiving feedback from last year’s event, a number of changes were put into place. For example, optional events, including a town-gown segment were planned to give students something to do in their spare time.

“We learned maybe students want more downtime to explore, so we really added a whole town element this year so students can explore the different vendors downtown,” Sojka said.

Additionally, the inclusion of transfer students to the UI was made available for the first time in the program’s three-year history.

But although more than 1,000 transfer students were invited to participate, Sojka said, they were not expected to attend the events as first-year students are.

One of the most striking changes from 2012 was in volunteer participation.

In all, around 900 volunteers aided in more than 1,000 different positions this year, with 170 student leaders split into “color squads.”

A complete volunteer count from 2012 was not available as of Sunday evening.

Sojka said the whole idea is to break students up into small groups broken up by the 14 residence halls across campus.

“So if you live in Burge, you’ll be in a small group with people from Burge and Daum,” she said. “The whole idea there is that you’re not just hanging out with your roommate the whole time and you start building that community network.”

When asked about color squads, UI freshman Gabrielle Armetta said they were a good idea.

“They split you up into groups so you’re with different people every day, so you have to kind of make new friends, and there are different activities that people with different interests can go to, so there’s always new opportunities to meet people,” she said.

First-year student Kat Tillman agreed.

“They kind of force you to make new friends in a way, but I think that helps because everyone is in the same boat,” she said. “It actually turns out really well because you have similar interests and you can talk about basics. It’s nice to get to know people outside your hall or dorm.”

As an OnIowa student leader, Peter Schumacher believes the color squads and leadership structure have helped develop and improve the program since its inception.

“I was also in the guinea pig year, and it was rough because it was their first time doing it,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t a leader, I could tell they have a better handle on what they’re doing this time. There’s a lot more energy and everyone seems more invested. I think that that is going to go far and make the program really solid.”


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