Getting ready for freshman year of college is typically overwhelming, pandemic or not.
Though Colin O’Donnell will be living on campus next year for an in-person experience, he was nervous learning his freshman orientation had moved to an online format.
O’Donnell, an incoming accounting major, said he wasn’t sure how he was going to meet people at orientation, and be prepared to live on campus.
“I was worried about meeting people because obviously orientation week is like a big point where you meet people,” O’Donnell, an incoming freshmen accounting major said. “But I ended up getting a ton of new friends from that.”
Orientation for incoming freshmen and transfer students is fully online this summer from June 1 to July 31 amid city restrictions of large events and COVID-19 social distancing policies.
Traditionally, students travel to campus and stay overnight in an on campus residence hall while touring the campus and meeting with orientation groups together.
This year, students are required to complete an online orientation module called Temple Preview, said Victor Borges, the new student programs coordinator. Then, new students virtually attend an academic advising session to sign up for fall courses.
While planning, Borges said his office looked at what other institutions were doing for ideas and ended up designing a “choose-your-own-adventure” format for the program.
Students are invited to attend an Ask An Owl session consisting of a question-and-answer session with a small group of other Temple enrollees and Owl Team Leaders.
After the Ask An Owl session, incoming students are added into messaging groups on GroupMe, a mobile messaging app, to stay in touch, said Hannah Whitty, a sophomore psychology major and first-year Owl Team Leader.
“I was done one session and I was just bombarded with direct messages, not even in the group chat, and they were like, ‘How did you do a part time job?’, ‘What was it like?’,” Whitty said. “I came in completely undecided so some of the students were like, ‘Isn’t that scary? I’m that too.’”
“You forget that even though this was me a year ago, that that’s exactly how you felt,” she added.
Fallon Roth, an incoming freshman journalism major, said that she was overwhelmed by choosing classes for her first year and worried about how to stay on schedule with classes for graduation.
At first, Roth was disappointed that orientation was moved online, but was able to get all her questions answered through Ask an Owl and her advising session, she said.
“Obviously it was kind of a disappointment not being able to have the full orientation experience that I’ve heard about that’s supposed to be really fun,” she added. “But I think it was still a good alternative and we were still able to get informed about Temple and all that it has to offer.”
Owl Team Leaders also host affinity spaces for students with similar identities, like students of color, international students, first-generation students and students in the LGBTQ community to discuss challenges they may face at Temple.
Jake McDermott, a sophomore biology major, runs the affinity spaces for first-generation students. The first session he hosted had about five or six students, but the next week only one student attended, McDermott said. He said that the student is not only a first-generation student, but is a commuter, just like McDermott and one other Owl Team Leader on the Zoom session.
“Even with lackluster student turnout, it still was super productive and I enjoyed every minute of it with one student,” McDermott said. “So even though that might sound a little bit upsetting, it’s just seeing the change and the benefit that one student gets out of it is worth it honestly.”
New students are also invited to attend other orientation events hosted by various departments on campus, like exercise sessions with Campus Recreation, diversity conversations with Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership, self-care workshops with the Wellness Resource Center and trivia night with Student Activities, Whitty said.
O’Donnell attended multiple Ask an Owl sessions, affinity spaces and events hosted by the Student Success Center and Housing and Residence Life.
He said he was a little apprehensive to live on-campus for the fall semester due to COVID-19, but chose to because he wanted the experience of living in Philadelphia and around Temple.
Through attending orientation events, O’Donnell was able to meet a lot of incoming students, andit made hime feel more comfortable with moving away from home for his freshmen year, he added.
“The way the OTLs talked to each other there’s a real sense of family and companionship and I’m really looking forward to getting that,” O’Donnell Even with these seminars, I came out of each with like three people who added me on snapchat or like followed me on Instagram so I’m going to school with all these people I’m talking to.”
One of the positives of having a virtual program is the ability to be more flexible, allowing the program to adapt to feedback as orientation continues, Borges said.
“Now we can get feedback from students and Owl Team Leaders and actually make changes to the way that we’re communicating, make changes to the way that sessions happen,” Borges added.
Being able to adapt the program has allowed it to be able to really meet the needs of the incoming students for this semester, despite all the changes, Borges added.
McDermott said a difficult aspect of the position is answering students’ questions about starting college with online classes.
“The whole point of the job is you’ve been there, you’ve done that, so you can speak on it a little bit,” McDermott said. “But there’s certain aspects of it that even though we’ve gone through our first year, we haven’t been there and went through what they did for sure, so it makes it a little more difficult.”
Lucy Niyazova, a junior communications studies major, said being able to still work as an Owl Team Leader gave her something to look forward to while feeling uncertain about the future.
“I will never understand what they’re going through because I didn’t have the experience that they’re going through,” Niyazova said. “They missed prom, they missed graduation, that last summer at home and so the least that I can do is talk to them and hear them. If I can see myself as a resource for these students, even in the smallest way … everything feels okay.”