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Program earns regional awards for innovative ways of welcoming new students

When incoming college students arrive on campus, they are looking for a friendly face and perhaps someone to show them all Bridgewater State University has to offer. But when you can’t meet others in person how do you make those connections?

It was a dilemma the BSU orientation program faced last year during COVID. However, the dedicated staff was able to adapt and create a program that enabled new students to still find those connections.

Their efforts were recently recognized at the annual NODA Regional IX Conference where they received three awards: Innovation Program Award, Outstanding Undergraduate Student Leadership Award and Outstanding Graduate Student Leadership Award.

“I am so proud of our team and what we were able to accomplish with all of the factors during the pandemic,” said Heather Flatto, associate director for the Center for Student Engagement.

Together the team had to rebuild and execute an entirely new orientation program, the Crimson and White Experience, that implemented a virtual experience for incoming students versus in-person.

The program included personal touches by orientation leaders who made welcome phone calls and sent handwritten letters to all new students.

Pre-Advising workshops, individual advising appointments and asynchronous online programming, were also some of the options offered.

An overwhelming 90 percent of incoming students who participated in the Crimson and White Experience said it had a positive impact on their experience as incoming students.  

“When students come to college, there are a lot of unknowns and orientation is fantastic at answering the unknowns,” said Erin Wentzel, ’20, G’22, who received the Outstanding Graduate Student Leadership Award.

Wentzel, who plans on pursuing a career as a student affairs professional, helped coordinate pieces of the orientation process including recruitment campaigns and managing weekly communications with new students and their families.

“I like being a mentor and creating a support system for people,” she said. “When COVID took away (in-person meetings) I wanted to do something to help and worked with my team to offer an online orientation. The experience was fantastic.”

Jake Dee-Hastings, ’21, who took home the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Leadership Award also looks to embark on a career in student affairs.

In his roles as an orientation leader and subsequently student orientation coordinator, he helped new students and their families make the transition from high school to college.

“The BSU orientation program is so important because it offers everyone involved a chance to learn and grow as people,” he said. “New students get a glimpse of what college is like, families get to learn about the resources, and the orientation leaders get to expand their knowledge of BSU and grow as leaders.”

Members of the orientation team will now wait to see if they will be recognized at the national level, those awardees will be announced this fall.

In the meantime, the BSU orientation program is getting geared up for the next group of incoming students. As COVID restrictions are lifted, adaptions will be made to offer both virtual and in-person experiences.

“We are here and are ready,” Flatto said. “Know we are here for you, we’ve got you, and you’ll be okay.”

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