Orientation 2019: Creating a positive start for students of all backgrounds

At Georgetown and elsewhere, university communities are working to ensure a warm and supportive welcome for students traditionally underrepresented on college campuses. As of 2017, 35 percent of the 229 institutions surveyed by NODA, the Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention in Higher Education, said they offered orientation programming geared toward “nontraditional” students.

Greeting unaccompanied students

Every year, Georgetown alumni, faculty, and staff volunteers meet unaccompanied first-year students at airports and train and bus stations through the Georgetown Scholars Program’s Project Move-in.

“For many, it’s the first time the students have traveled to campus, and it’s great to see their reactions as we make our way to the university, says alumnus Michael Bento (C’83), who is the CEO of ENGAGE Strategies and has volunteered with Project Move-in the past three years. This year, Bento welcomed two incoming students at Dulles International Airport and helped them move in. Watch a video of Bento greeting freshman Iryna Tiasko (F’23) as she arrives in Washington, D.C., having traveled to the United States for the first time.

Supporting law students from historically underrepresented backgrounds

Georgetown Law, meanwhile, recently welcomed the second class of participants in its RISE program, which supports incoming J.D. students from racial, ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds historically underrepresented in law school and the legal profession. The nearly 70 self-dubbed RISERS attended a week-long “pre-orientation” featuring simulated classes and exams, as well as networking opportunities. The programming will extend through students’ first year as they explore the legal profession and develop their writing and critical thinking skills.

“It is one thing to admit students from underrepresented backgrounds. It’s another to… invest in the programming and develop the community that will ensure [that students] reach their full potential and hit the ground running when they join the profession,” says Maura DeMouy, director of academic success at Georgetown Law.

Writing in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Andrew Martinez, a research associate at the Rutgers Center for Minority-Serving Institutions and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, emphasizes how important such programs can be in encouraging and connecting students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

Reflecting on his orientation experience as a low-income, first-generation student, Martinez says he can’t imagine achieving the same level of success without “the programs dedicated to support students like me”—programs where he heard from older students of similar backgrounds who “were encouraging and realistic about what it was like to be a student of color, first-generation and less-privileged.” He calls on college administrators, faculty, and students to educate themselves about the “obstacles students encounter in college that often go unnoticed.”

Related: Georgetown course helps first-gen students master ‘the hidden curriculum’ >

Introducing adult learners to campus

In that spirit, institutions also are creating orientation experiences tailored to the growing population of older students on college and university campuses, Inside Higher Ed reports. The number of college students over age 25 increased by 11 percent between 2006 and 2016, according to federal data. Many of those students are balancing school with family and work obligations, and may not have large blocks of time to dedicate to lengthy orientation sessions.

Given those constraints, colleges should pare down orientation to better serve a population that’s “focused on finishing,” says David Duvall, director of the New Maverick Orientation and Transition program at the University of Texas at Arlington. Colleges also are focusing on challenges specific to adult learners, including time management and technology.

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