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Orientation program is a year-round effort
December 14, 1998

It's December. Anxious high school seniors won't see their acceptance letters for months. Yet plans are already underway for the class of 2003's summer orientation program.

A six-week, summer program comprised of 12 two-day sessions, orientation at UConn is a time for students to register for class, learn about UConn's academic, co-curricular, and social activities, tour campus, spend the night in a residence hall, and attend a variety of seminars whose topics range from the benefits offered at Student Health Services to sexual assault awareness.

"When students attend orientation programs, they tend to persist, to perform better, because they know what to expect and where to go for help if they should need it."

Maria Sedotti
Orientation Services

But, although orientation is primarily considered a summer program, planning and preparation is a year-round event.

"We're currently in the process of selecting this year's staff of orientation leaders," says Maria Sedotti, coordinator of orientation services. Each year, a new staff is selected from a pool of fourth-semester or higher student applicants. "By having orientation leaders serve only one year, it guarantees that each year's staff brings the same enthusiasm and excitement as the year before." .

Orientation staff members are students trained as paraprofessionals whose responsibilities include "everything from outlining the rigors of the academic expectations at UConn, to discussing issues like campus safety and residence hall life, to demystifying the touchtone registration system," says Joshua Ruminski, an eighth-semester English and Spanish major, and former orientation leader.

The leaders must meet high standards, says Sedotti. She looks for a variety of key attributes, such as holding leadership positions on campus, having a broad base of knowledge about the University, academic and co-curricular success, the ability to be a good role model for incoming freshmen, and indicating a demonstrated enthusiasm for the University and its programs.

Heather Barbour decided to become an orientation leader after her freshman orientation session.

"The orientation leaders inspired me with their spirit for UConn," she says. "I loved doing the O-Dance (Orientation Dance) and singing the Husky Fight Song. I wanted to be the one to pass on those traditions to freshmen," says Barbour, a fifth-semester-nursin g major and orientation leader during the summer of 1998. .

"This year, we wrote and performed skits pertaining to student life," says Robin Smedick, a seventh-semester history and political science major. Issues addressed in the skits, such as balancing scholastics and co-curricular life, "supplement the academic portion of the program," Smedick says. She emphasizes that while registration and advising are important, students have additional concerns about what, for many, is their first extended stay away from home..

"Orientation addresses the complex, diverse issues incoming students face," she says, adding it helps alleviate the apprehensions many freshmen have about college life.

"I was really nervous about coming to UConn," says Carlin Brooks, an out-of-state student from Farmsville, Va. "But after orientation, I was excited to come back in the fall. Orientation made me feel that UConn is the place for me."

Sedotti says orientation is part of a three-phase program geared toward familiarizing students with UConn and integrating them into a university environment:

  • Phase one consists of the two-day sessions during the summer, when the emphasis is on fostering a student's academic assimilation to the University through advising sessions and registration;

  • Phase two, the Weeks of Welcome, occurs when students return to campus. Events range from the campus wide picnic to Convocation to, this fall, a discussion of the novel Amistad by author David Pesci. Amistad was the first novel to be used in UConn's pilot program of summer reading for freshmen;

  • Phase three concludes the program, with the First Year Experience, which includes seminars and learning skills classes for freshmen that cover such essentials as time-management skills and the use of library facilities.

As orientation gears up for its 27th year, changes affecting all three aspects of the program are being implemented. Formerly, the program was comprised of 10 two-day sessions. However, as a result of last year's orientation attendance numbers (2,400 freshmen last summer compared to 1,800 freshmen the year before), as well as an anticipated 3 percent increase in enrollment next summer, the program has been extended to 12 two-day sessions. This year, Summer Orientation will run from May 25 to July 2.

"It's our goal to see 99 percent of our prospective freshmen in summer orientation," says Sedotti. "When students attend orientation programs, they tend to persist, to perform better, because they know what to expect and where to go for help if they should need it."

The University also would like to enhance its Weeks of Welcome, says Sedotti.

"We're considering adding sessions on time management, student affairs, and study techniques." Sedotti also emphasized the success of the summer reading program, and says that summer reading will be continued in the future. "The discussion of Pesci's Amistad was a success. Programs that enhance the academic component of orientation encourage the student's academic development."

Sedotti says enrolling more freshmen in the First Year Experience is another key element in helping students successfully make the leap from high school to college..

"The First Year Experience helps bridge the gap from high school senior to college freshman," she says. Sedotti cites an almost three-fold increase in enrollment in the First Year Experience seminars since they began three years ago..

Dolan Evanovich, associate provost for enrollment management, describes orientation as an integral step in facilitating the high school student's transition to college..

"It's a great step in the process of a new student's acclimation to UConn," said Evanovich. "The two-day program is a wonderful opportunity for students to experience the academic and co-curricular opportunities available at UConn."

Jennifer Ridder
Ridder was an orientation leader in 1997.