Virtual orientation poses obstacles for freshmen learning about campus

Freshmen are learning about campus, classes, and are meeting their peers from their computer screens. Staff members and orientation leaders are tasked with ensuring that first-year students are taking the program seriously.



A portrait of Maggy Hovden, a UI orientation leader.

Molly Allen, News Reporter

Each year, incoming University of Iowa students attend their orientation to learn about campus, class registration, and other activities. Because of COVID-19 and social-distancing restrictions this summer, the in-person experience has gone online.

Tina Arthur, UI director of Orientation Services, said orientation information is provided asynchronously. Most of the information is included as a tile on MyUI, she said, and the only piece that is live is the advising appointment.

Arthur said the university will help anyone who needs it, but the ultimate responsibility of completing orientation rests with the students.

“That’s part of being an adult, coming into campus or coming into a college environment,” Arthur said. “We expect students are holding up their end of the bargain.”

Arthur said that students need to complete a series of benchmarks both in the mandatory Success at Iowa course and on MyUI in order to be eligible for their advising appointment and to register for classes.

Due to orientation’s new virtual format, Arthur said her department had to consider how to ensure students weren’t skipping through their requirements. The solution is to check timestamps to see how long students are taking to complete their requirements, she said.

Arthur said she has seen a mix of responses from students — some were prepared to talk with their adviser, while others were not taking it seriously.

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“Truth be told, the person they’re hurting the most there is themselves, because this is important information that they need to know in order to be successful in their first semester,” Arthur said.

Maggy Hovden, an orientation leader, said she believes students are taking this opportunity seriously. She has only had a few students that were unprepared for their academic advising meeting, Hovden said.

“They have to take the responsibility to ask themselves ‘how much do I want to get out of my orientation experience?’” Hovden said.

Hovden said she connects with students through office hours and discussion forums on Zoom. These features are available all summer if students or parents have questions, she added.

Additionally, Hovden said students can meet one another on Zoom during “Hawkeye Hangouts,” which take place every other week.

“Those for me have been the best part of the job,” Hovden said. “I love seeing the students’ faces and they ask really great questions, so I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a couple of them.”

Makenzie Homan, an incoming freshman at the UI, said that participating in the Hawkeye Hangouts has been her favorite part of orientation.

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Although she’s met other students online, Homan said she still believes it would have been more beneficial to talk to peers in person.

“That’s every freshman’s fear: ‘I’m not going to have any friends and it’s going to be so hard to meet new people,'” Homan said.

Hovden said the virtual experience — though effective — has its drawbacks. The most difficult aspect of orientation to replicate virtually is the social experience, she said.

“I think in-person orientation is invaluable,” Hovden said. “It’s your chance to meet your peers and the people who are going to be in your incoming class.”

On Iowa! is the last piece of orientation and occurs the week before classes begin. Arthur said it’s typically a time for students to move into their dorms and participate in social activities. Whether the event will take place as usual is still uncertain, she said.

Homan said she isn’t getting her hopes up that On Iowa! will be on campus in the fall.

“I mean obviously I want it to be in person, but it’s more important to be safe,” Homan said.