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First-years arrive with questions, get answers
> > As the Class of 2004 descended on the quads, the College Programming Office was ready and waiting, with (as always) a new and improved Orientation.

image: Campus News"Can I move in early?" "How long are extra long sheets?" "Can I bring my iguana?" These are just a few of the questions incoming first-years ask the College Programming Office. The office runs New Student Orientation-which took place this year from Saturday, September 16, to Sunday, September 24. Although Orientation has undergone a number of changes in recent years, from nominal to substantial, the primary goal is the same: orienting new undergraduates to the University.

In 1995, Orientation (which began in 1934) experienced one of its first present-day changes: the "week" got longer. "There were too many things, in terms of departmental meetings, in terms of campus resources to showcase, if every one got its own half-hour or hour time slot," explains director of College programming Heather Johnson, AB'98. In order for every group to have an opportunity to reach new students, Orientation was expanded from nine to twelve days. With more time, the program got a shorter name-Orientation Week became Orientation. Last year, however, the Orientation team, then headed by Rebecca Snyder, AB'91, AM'96, decided Orientation could be improved once again.

The 12-day schedule was a drain on resources, and attendance at informational meetings was low-in part, it was argued, because the events were spread out around campus. So Orientation returned to a nine-day, but more focused schedule. Combining groups of meetings at a single location, Orientation now features fairs such as Learning Beyond the Classroom, outlining study abroad and community service options; the Divisional Meeting Fair, which lets students obtain information about the College's 49 concentrations; and the Resources Fair, which highlights Career and Placement Services, student counseling and skills assessments, health and wellness information, and other University resources.

One major advantage of the 12-day Orientation was that it allowed time for both the required placement tests and breathing room. As the schedule was cut back, the number of academic placement tests was also reduced, from 4-5 to just one, in math. The math test-pre-calculus or calculus-does double duty, also letting students and their advisers assess what level of science would be best. One other required test remains: all students take the physical-education placement test, made up of swimming, fitness, and strength trials.

While no one can take their tests for them, students do not go through New Student Orientation alone. A corps of 250 upper-year students is on hand, including nearly 100 general O-Aides who are responsible for answering questions or directing them to someone who can, and setting up and taking down welcoming events and socials. Another 150 house O-Aides help students orient themselves to their new home in the residence halls. "My 'official' duties consist mostly of decorating the dorm and helping the first-years move in, plus sponsoring house activities," says house O-Aide Brian Richardson, '01.

The job also includes things that aren't spelled out neatly in a job description, Richardson continues: "Really, what being a house O-Aide means is being there for the new students-listen to them, offer resources, hang out with them, talk with them. It's a whole new life for the students, and it's important for them to know that they already have a friend waiting. That's what a house O-Aide is all about, just being that friend." Helping first-years adjust to U of C academic life are program assistants (PAs), third- or fourth-year students assigned to a group of 18-20 first-years who share the same College adviser. The PAs accompany their charges to Chicago Life meetings where students get a chance to talk about topics such as safety and sexual harassment as well as academic topics. The PAs have another important responsibility-helping first-years register for classes-which some PAs, including Rachel Knipe, '01, consider their most important job: "Registering for classes is not easy and requires a lot of creativity and flexibility," Knipe says, "especially as classes start closing [accepting no more students] during registration week."

The job comes with some material perks. Lead assistants are paid $1000 and program assistants are paid $500. All O-Aides receive room and board, T-shirts, and freebie packages. They also get perks that don't have a monetary value. For many, it's the people they meet. "I met so many awesome people in my Chicago Life meetings and during training that I would feel like I were missing out if I didn't become an O-Aide again," says Christopher Romer, '02, who's back for his second year as a program assistant. Other volunteers want to share their wisdom: "Once you go through the whole experience," confides Knipe, "you wonder what it was you were ever nervous about, and I wanted to help shorten that nervous period and lengthen the confident period."

To help build social confidence, Orientation offers new students activities, both within their house and within their class. Two traditions, one sponsored by the Alumni Association, encourage class identity. The opening convocation is followed by the class picture. Another addition is "Experience Chicago Day," at which students can participate in community service activities or explore the city. Other class activities include a movie on the quads; "Museum Night," where students can tour the Oriental Institute and the Smart Museum; and U of C Night at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Throughout Orientation, there is an emphasis on meeting the students in one's house. Students usually have their first house meeting the evening of move-in day. Houses make excursions into the city, often with very specific destinations. This fall, Tufts House in Pierce Tower planned a trip downtown, via train, to Gino's East, which, according to Resident Head Irene Logsdon-Owens, "is a Tufts House must." Other house activities include trips to the Hancock Observatory and local festivals.

While a number of activities are residence-house based, commuter students are not forgotten. Although they may live all over the city and suburbs, commuter students are considered a house, and during Orientation, they move into Snell-Hitchcock and, assigned their own O-Aides, participate in all the activities offered to residential students.

By Orientation's end, says Heather Johnson, she and the rest of the College Programming Office (assistant directors Amanda Geppert, AB'95, and Janet Isabelli, AB'99) will start planning for Orientation again. Anyone who has a hand in creating the program-including O-Aides, faculty, and staff-is asked to complete an evaluation. At the end of Orientation, first-years are asked to complete an on-line survey; later in the year, new students are randomly selected to participate, along with staff and O-Aides, in an Orientation focus group, as another way to fine-tune the programming. No matter how well Orientation is planned, however, students will still have questions. And the College Programming Office and O-Aides will have the answers: only Jewish students observing the Sabbath can move in early; extra-long sheets are 80 inches in length, and needed for dormitory beds; and pets are not allowed in dorms, unless they can pass the "five minutes underwater test."-Q.J.

  OCTOBER 2000
  > > Volume 93, Number 1

  > >
Déjà views
  > >
Women in white
  > >
Gay studies at Chicago
  > > Reclamation project

  > > Class News

  > > Books
  > > Deaths

  > > Investigations

  > > Editor's Notes

  > > Letters
  > > From the President



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