15:53 PM

Connections continue as Ohio State orientation moves online

First Year Experience programs support incoming students

Courtney Dunn has a lesson for students joining The Ohio State University in the fall: Get comfortable with change.

Dunn, a peer leader for new student orientation, is adjusting to change herself. She’s used to speaking to hundreds of students and their families in Drake Performance and Event Center, looking into their eyes and feeding off the energy in the room.

“When you’re on stage as a peer leader, you’re looking out at the crowd, your students are there and they know that you’re going to be their peer leader. It’s exciting,” she said.

Dunn says online orientation is different. “They see me, but they don’t really get the whole feel because they can’t see my body language and that in-person touch.”

Dunn, a rising third-year student majoring in international studies, is among the thousands of students, faculty and staff facing new challenges as the university’s First Year Experience programs adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This summer, Ohio State’s annual orientation program is virtual due to the ban on large, public gatherings. The sessions are presented live on CarmenZoom, and the information for students is just as vital.

Programs on well-being, financial responsibility and public safety are delivered in video presentations or by expert speakers. Students learn what’s expected of them at Ohio State, schedule classes for their first term and complete any necessary placement testing.

Jenny Osborn, associate director of First Year Experience in the Office of Student Academic Success, said the virtual orientation does have positives, including the anonymity provided through the CarmenZoom chat program. She noted that students who might not be inclined to speak up when they are in a large group setting can ask questions online and get answers from the moderators.

First Year Experience Director Catherine Montalto said despite the virtual setting, students are getting the same information to help them get comfortable on campus, connect with the university and start to think of Ohio State as home.

Dunn agreed and said when she meets with her team of students as their peer leader, it’s important for them to feel welcome. Dunn has experience in rolling out the welcome mat. She served as an OWL as a freshman and became a peer leader the following year.

“I think it’s a really special thing to get to welcome the new students to campus. I know the importance of wanting someone to welcome me and to feel welcomed by people,” Dunn said. “When I was given that during my experience as a freshman, I knew that when I was able to, I needed to be involved in that process.”

Montalto said the university is continuing to make plans for the traditional welcome week, knowing it will look different this year. Last week, Ohio State announced plans to resume in-person classes for the autumn semester.

One theme that is reinforced during orientation is the importance of making connections, finding and forming study groups, and joining clubs and activities. With more than 60,000 students on the Columbus campus, Ohio State is one of the largest universities in the nation but close friendships and student networks can make it seem less intimidating.

Matt Couch, interim assistant vice president for Student Life, summed it up in one of the virtual presentations: “It’s the people who make the Ohio State campus so much smaller.”

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