Celebrating 10 years of OnIowa – virtually

The University of Iowa moved the OnIowa first-year and transfer student immersion program to hybrid events in its tenth year because of COVID-19.


Shivansh Ahuja

OnIowa members lead a tour of campus for first-year students on Aug. 22, 2020.

Sabine Martin, News Reporter

In a typical fall semester, incoming first-year and transfer students at the University of Iowa gather for Kickoff at Kinnick and Convocation on the Pentacrest.

OnIowa, which celebrated its 10th anniversary, looked different this year, with the altered program to include hybrid in-person and online events to protect the health and safety of attendees and orientation volunteers amid COVID-19.

OnIowa is designed to help first-year and transfer students become immersed in the UI’s campus and community. This year, OnIowa held virtual Netflix nights alongside a traditional in-person orientation meeting, where students meet with upperclassmen to learn how to be academically and socially successful.

Events such as disc golf and an outdoor movie night were held in-person, but students had to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, wearing face coverings and maintaining social distance.

Per the UI’s COVID-19 guidelines, students must maintain at least six feet between each other and follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for quarantining and isolation if someone contracts the virus. Isolations rooms have been set aside in residence halls to provide extra safety measures, as well.

“We’re doing some of the things that we would have done in the past,” UI Director of Orientation Services Tina Arthur said. “But also, obviously [there are] some new expectations for the university and what we’re expecting out of them in the classroom with COVID, and expectations around wearing your mask and that sort of thing.”

Students usually form the iconic “I” in the center of the football field at Kinnick Stadium, as well as attend Convocation on the Pentacrest.

This year, the class of 2024 was welcomed with a virtual convocation video featuring UI President Bruce Harreld, UI Vice President for Student Life Sarah Hansen, UI Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Tanya Uden-Holman, and UI freshman Faith Surface, who was the fall 2020 convocation speaker.

Due to the event-capacity guidelines, Arthur said the university could not have more than 50 people in a room, so students were not able to participate in signature OnIowa events.

OnIowa volunteers conducted check-ins for dorms and hosted orientation meetings with social distancing icebreakers. The virtual dunk contest and the Netflix party were some of the events hosted for students to view online.

First-year Chloey Shriver said she felt more comfortable participating in the program from her dorm room, given the choice to either attend orientation in person or view from a computer via Zoom.

OnIowa leader and UI sophomore Bhavana Sirimalle became part of the OnIowa program because of the positive memories that came from her freshman year experience attending OnIowa events.

“I enjoyed going to the Office of Sustainability where you could plant your own plant as an activity that they had the very first day,” Sirimalle said. “I feel really bad for those kids because they won’t get all of those experiences.”

Despite the loss of opportunities for students to meet in real life, freshman Karsen Gray said he is not scared to make new friends, as he has had chances to make connections elsewhere, including the UI Class of 2024 Facebook group.

Although the planning challenges have been immense, Arthur said she is pleased with the results of the hybrid version of OnIowa and has seen positive interactions among students.

“They’re excited about being on campus,” Arthur said. “They’re excited that we’re able to provide them with some transition opportunities to meet new people.”

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