Being an orientation leader during a global pandemic

by Christian McCarville

The number of obstacles posed by the ongoing global pandemic has become immeasurable. State restrictions and policies inevitably changed the lives of all, as every in-person contact is a risk that many are unable to take.

Each summer, the Rider Orientation Leaders are tasked with the job of welcoming incoming freshmen to their first year of college, as well as transfer students. However, the unfortunate reality is that many of these freshmen may never step foot on Rider’s campus during the Fall 2020 semester. 

As Coronavirus cases persisted into the summer, it was decided that this year’s orientation was to be done remotely. This decision, while disappointing for both incoming freshman and orientation leaders, was ultimately made for the safety of both parties.

This team of Orientation Leaders had to think heavily outside of the box in order to welcome new students in a remote setting. Utilizing technology and social media to their advantage, it appears that this orientation team truly knocked it out of the park.

A valuable aspect of Rider’s orientation is that it provides incoming students with the essential information that they need to successfully begin their first semester. One of the challenges that Orientation Leaders faced was effectively getting this information to each and every incoming student.

“Normally we have about one and a half days with our groups and really get to know each other, but there was no such thing this year,” said senior elementary education major Jenna Dean. “As a team, we came up with new events and ways to virtually connect with students. We used Zoom for multiple live meetings, our Facebook page to answer questions, and Canvas to provide all the information they could need.” 

The team also hosted multiple Instagram takeovers using the @RiderOrientation Instagram page. Throughout the summer, each Orientation Leader would take turns logging into the account and answering questions from incoming students.

Orientation Leaders also held virtual “pizza parties” which allowed freshmen to have whole pizzas sent to their homes using GrubHub. They would then join a Zoom session with their pizza alongside other incoming freshmen. 

“It incentivized the students to log on and play games with the Orientation staff and every student was able to meet other students just like them,” said senior history major Bobby Kakoleski. 

These virtual pizza parties are a perfect example of creatively using technology to get new students excited and interacting with one another. 

Once freshman students began to move-in, Orientation Leaders were then able to host safe in-person events as part of Welcome Week. These events included a free ice cream truck, social distanced yoga and a virtual Rider Cribs competition where students would show off their living spaces. Each of these events were  designed to make freshmen feel at home despite the incredibly unique circumstances of the Fall 2020 semester.

Overall, the Orientation Team appears to be very proud of their work this summer, and this is rightfully so. Despite the many obstacles that were posed, they were able to create virtual student-to-student interactions while keeping incoming freshmen adequately informed about their upcoming semester.

“Everyone always had really great ideas and we all worked hard to make them happen and I’m really proud of what our team accomplished this summer given the circumstances,” said film, TV, and radio major Kelly Phillips.

While many are deeply hoping that life will be back to normal by next summer, the Rider Orientation team will be prepared for success regardless.

“While this summer was by no means a typical one, there were still so many opportunities to connect with students and their families, and I loved every minute of it,” said junior graphic design and computer science major Liz O’Hara.

More information on Rider’s Orientation Leader’s can be found here: https://www.rider.edu/offices-services/transition-programs/staff/orientation-leaders

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