The First Face of the University

Summer orientation is usually just the beginning of the excitement surrounding a new upcoming school year. Typically, students can sign up for a one- or two-day orientation to prepare for their first fall semester at Minnesota State University, Mankato. During their visit to campus, they register for classes, receive their MavCard, meet other students and talk to different departments on campus.

This year, however, the office of New Student and Family Programs had to think outside of the box and move programming completely online as a COVID-19 precaution. As a result, the Maverick Online Orientation and Registration (MOOR) programming was created on the University’s educational platform, Desire2Learn, or D2L, where students typically go for class-related items like viewing their syllabus, turning in assignments and checking their grades.

Jeremy Riesenberg, Assistant Director of Orientation and Transition Programs, spent the early summer months trying to figure out just how to use an educational platform to create an interactive and informational orientation.

 “My main goal for orientation is building excitement for [the students], that they’re looking forward to starting college,” Riesenberg says. “I hope that orientation is their first chance to see what they’re in for, the environment they’ll be in and the other fantastic students that they’ll meet. I hope that by the time everyone leaves orientation that they’re like ‘I can’t wait for this to all start again in the fall.’”

Riesenberg’s final product included weekly modules that were posted every Monday morning over a six-week period that provided students with information about campus resources, videos from current students, virtual resource fairs and fun activities for students to get to know the University better.

With the help of student Orientation Peer Assistants, known as OPAs, the office successfully implemented the new orientation style online. OPAs, like Lizzie Putnam, a junior Special Education major from Las Vegas, Nevada, were tasked with helping students transition to campus, while never actually getting to meet them physically.

“I feel like we’re the first face at the University that the students see and we’re also the student perspective, which I think is really important… There’s 16 of us and we help students with registration, we do the activities, and we perform a welcome dance right at the beginning which they always love on the two days,” Putnam says.

Although OPAs were bummed they didn’t get to perform their annually coordinated dance, they still sprang into action to help incoming students. Students were asked to fill out surveys throughout their orientation experience, which the Peer Assistants read through and responded to individually. Additionally, they held office hours for students to attend, hosted virtual labs for building relationships with other students and even hand packed “swag envelopes” with Maverick themed t-shirts, flags and lanyards to provide students with Maverick gear before they even moved to the Mankato area. Some days, they spent up to 12 hours on Zoom, providing resources for incoming students.

“The OPAs did a great job adapting, and I was very proud of them. They made the best of it, and I appreciated all of the work they did. They were the pulse of making it run, just like they are when they’re here in person,” says Riesenberg.

Overall, the online platform was a success. Students seemed to really engage in the process, despite the fact that it may not have been exactly what they expected, and participation was high throughout the summer.

 “I was happy to see that [the students] were still engaging,” Riesenberg says. “I was worried about that at first. But I also thought, ‘They had such a crazy end of their high school experience that maybe they’re looking for some normalcy and thinking about their next chapter.’”

With the uncertainty expected to continue over at least the next few months, orientation for students starting in the spring semester will also be done through the D2L online format. Fortunately, though, the orientation modules will continue to be used for this process and will stay open on D2L for the entirety of this next school year to provide students with a way to refer back to resources when they need it.