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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

May 17, 2007

Summer orientation: a chance to convince the undecided

by Anne Krapfl

Three years ago, it was rare for college-bound students to participate in more than one university's summer orientation, says Liz Kurt, director of New Student Programs. Now, she regularly hears comments from students -- or their parents -- about other orientations they have attended.

What that means to Kurt and her orientation staff is that they still have some convincing to do. Even among students who have applied, been admitted, accepted their offer of admission, paid $275 in fees and deposits, and registered for a summer orientation, some have not made their final decision to attend Iowa State, she said.

In groups of up to 300, an estimated 3,800 would-be freshmen will attend a two-day ISU orientation session between May 31 and June 26. At either end of that window, another 300 transfer students will attend a one-day orientation designed for them. Joining them on campus for the test run will be nearly 5,500 parents, guardians and siblings.

"Family members are so much more involved in students' lives than they used to be," said Megan Parker, program coordinator for New Student Programs. "Increasingly, more parents do their homework. They know what questions to ask, they have expectations."

Normally hosted primarily in the Memorial Union, orientation will operate from the west side of campus this year due to renovation work at the Union. Key sites include Hoover Hall, the Union Drive Community Center and Martin Residence Hall, where participants first check in when they arrive on campus (and where they may stay overnight, if they opt to stay on campus).

Orientation guests will use parking lot 59A (west side of Martin Hall), lot 60 (off Hayward Ave. in Campustown) and lot 7 (former site of Westgate Hall, across from the student health center).

Details, details

Part of what the incoming students need to get done during orientation Kurt refers to as "business details": they get their e-mail accounts and ISU Cards, they meet their advisers for the first time and register for fall classes, they take English and foreign language assessment exams for fall placement, they attend college-specific and department sessions, they learn how to pay their university bill online, they may opt to tour residence halls or the library, or look into becoming part of the Greek student community. Sessions for family members cover topics such as the health service, campus safety and parking policies, and offer suggestions for making the transition to college smoother for their students.

But, Kurt said, equally important to her team is that incoming students feel great about picking Iowa State and that families leave campus with no worries or unanswered questions about their August move-in day.

"There are so many factors that go into achieving that, including some we can't control -- like the weather or road construction or even the dynamics among family members," she said. But, nine out of 10 times Kurt, Parker, another staff member or one of 35 Cyclone student aides can resolve an issue before the family departs from the orientation session.

"I don't want a family to leave here feeling unsure about something, whether it's a scheduling issue or a residence assignment or whatever," Parker said. "If I can help take care of it, then they leave happy."

Kurt noted that orientation is designed to alleviate some of the stress of transitioning to college life -- including academic and social aspects. "They hear this at other times, but another thing we try to share with them at orientation is all the resources available to them at Iowa State that will help them be successful students," she said.

It's a team effort

In addition to her paid staff, Kurt said she relies on uncounted volunteers around campus to let orientation guests know that Iowa State is a good place to be.

It's the little things that can have an impact, she said: holding a door open, offering directions to visitors who look stumped about their surroundings, being patient if your lunch line is a little longer than usual. Orientation students are recognizable by their red mini backpacks.

Kurt also mentioned the several dozen faculty or staff members who represent their colleges on a volunteer panel, responding to questions from parents and other family members. This panel is offered the second morning of every orientation session.

"We appreciate those who commit their time to this. Their assistance and dedication is invaluable to the overall experience for our students and guests," she said. "The families love this time with the faculty."

Summer orientation

Xiaoqing Wu, associate professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, meets with an incoming freshman to discuss her fall classes during a previous summer orientation. File photo by Bob Elbert.


Summer Orientation

For freshmen:
May 31-June 26 (16 2-day sessions)

For transfer students:
May 30 or June 27