Breaking the summer lull at the University of Arizona, students and their families have been arriving on campus by the hundreds to participate in the newly revised orientation sessions.
New student orientation is now being offered in not two, but one-day sessions and with major changes in the agenda to allow for more networking and social interaction, said Rachel Beech, the UA's New Student Services director.
"It's a really long day, but I think students and their families feel it is a full day," Beech said.
Orientation sessions of the past were content heavy, offering a broad swath of information, back-to-back meetings and a large to-do list.
With placement testing to complete and a host of academic, social, health and safety-related sessions to attend, orientation offered too much information to consume in too little time, Beech said.
Much has changed, with orientation now being held 7:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a single day.
Under the new format, student are encouraged to review the Web-based Next Steps Center on a more regular basis to ensure they are prepared for their orientation session.
The site informs on admissions, bill pay, financial aid, meal plans, UA email account setup, immunization requirements tutoring, clubs and organizations, among other things. Also, family members are being directed to the new Parent Essentials site, a similar resource to get connected with campus resources before orientation.
"So they are able to ask better questions. And many of the students are so focused on the social element, but the parents want to know a lot," Beech said, adding that parents tend to have more questions about academic, financial, social and experiential issues.
Today, second language proficiency placement is now online, a session specifically for Honors College students is being piloted and 12 resident hall assistants now coordinate social programming each orientation session for about 250 students and family members who opt to stay in UA halls during orientation.
Structured in this strategic way, students and families can bypass general questions about deadlines and procedures and get to more detailed concerns around expectations and opportunities while having more meaningful contact, Beech said.
Also during the daylong program, students and their family members each attend the welcome event and also informative sessions on academic programs and student organizations.
Later in the day, students and family members break to attend concurrent sessions where students set their class schedules and parents learn more about University resources, procedures and federal law related to student information.
On Friday, during the Eller College of Management's conference session, Jeff Welter talked about the college's different programs, academic requirements and expectations.
"To be a business student is a whole lot more than just the classes," said Welter, an adviser for the college's undergraduate programs, who encouraged students to think early about study abroad opportunities and service work.
Nearby, during the College of Education's session, academic advising coordinator Kerith Lisa and Kathleen Humphrey, senior academic adviser, split the students and parents into groups.
While Humphrey informed parents about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and answered their questions about campus life and extracurricular activities, among other things, Lisa talked to students about campus and regional vernacular and ways to prepare for the fall semester.
"You have to change what you think about tutoring," was among the tips Lisa offered the students, in addition to encouraging them to seek out the Think Tank and Writing Skills Improvement. "In college, you are going to use it as a resource to get help early on."
Later in the day, parents were able to network with one another and were encouraged to seek out those with special badges denoting "UA Expert" for those who already sent a student to the University and "Expert" for those who have put a student through any college or university before.
"There is a lot of comfort in speaking with someone who has done this before," Beech said about why the badges were added. "All parents who have sent a student through (college) have gone through the emotional challenge. It's helpful for parents to have a network so that they can bond."
So, one overarching message during orientation is that this is both an exhilarating and frightening time. So, to ensure student success, students and their families must connect early on not only to UA resources but also to one another.
Denise Potempa, from Scottsdale, Ariz., had an "Expert" badge for having supported another family member who just graduated for Arizona State University.
"So far, so good. They seem to know when to separate everyone," said Potempa, whose son Chrisopher Potempa is an incoming pre-business major. Potempa said that while she wanted to be with her son when he chose his classes.
"I think they want to get the kids independent off the bat," she said.
During Friday's orientation session, the second of 12 to be offered during the summer, Victor Ortiz and Magaly Ortiz acknowledged that while they were overwhelmed with the speed of the one-day format, they were getting what they needed.
"The staff has been very helpful and knowledgeable," said Victor Ortiz, who arrived from Phoenix, Ariz. with his sister, pre-business major Magaly Ortiz.
Savannah Jarvis, who opted for a last-minute change in her major from nursing, was having a similar experience.
"It's been really helpful, a lot more helpful than I thought it would be," said Jarviz, a pre-education major from Yuma, Ariz. "I had some questions about what classes to take because I didn't know and I didn't have a whole lot of time."
As such, orientation is now less about taking copious notes and memorizing tons of information and more about solidifying urgent plans in advance to free up time to get to know other people and also what it means to be a Wildcat.
In fact, during the welcome ceremony, Kasey Urquidez, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of admissions, told the audience of nearly 900 people what being a Wildcat means.
"You are part of an elite group. You should be very, very proud," Urquidez said.
Urquidez, in sharing stories about her experience as an incoming student in 1990, said she found that those on campus welcomed her with curiosity and compassion.
"As soon as you get here you feel it. It was the Wildcat way," she said. "It was right then that I knew UA was the place for me."