13:10 PM

Virtual orientation program recognized for innovation

Among the many questions the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired is how colleges and universities can welcome new students and acclimate them to their new campus in a virtual setting.

At University of Houston-Clear Lake, virtual "Hangin' with a Hawk" sessions by the Office of Orientation and New Student Programs helped incoming students learn about campus resources and services with a fun, community-building approach. This unique effort has won the Innovative Program Award for Region IV of The National Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention in Higher Education (NODA).

"The 'Hangin' with a Hawk' program ran the entire summer," said Assistant Director of Orientation and New Student Programs Tyler Hall. "It started with orientation leaders during their training, so that the program would be student-led. They picked out topics to discuss for each session and took the initiative to do the logistics by reaching out to staff, professors and offices," he said. "We had one 'Hangin with a Hawk' session a day with a specific theme that focused on campus resources and services. We had two events on Fridays: 'Faculty Friday,' where students could meet a faculty member, and a 'Funday Friday' social event."

Hall said this was an opportunity for orientation leaders to demonstrate and execute their leadership skills.

"We had about 25 leaders and they hosted 49 individual sessions which were on Zoom and Facebook live. We had about 5,000 views, with most of them watching after the live events were over," he said.

Director of Orientation and New Student Programs Angie Montelongo said the recognition confirmed the value of their hard work on the program. "They were looking for a creative way that an institution filled a gap," she said. "When we moved to virtual orientation sessions, we knew we would miss out on students being able to connect with resources on campus. So, we brainstormed 'Hangin' with a Hawk' because it helped make up for the lack of in-person connections, which is a critical part of the orientation process."

She said that Region IV includes all institutions of higher education in Texas, Arkansas and other states. "The nomination process is very competitive," she said. "To be recognized by our peer organization is very rewarding."

Hall said they wanted to be sure they didn't lose anything with their pivot to the virtual platform. "This was a new idea, and it gave our orientation leaders a new leadership opportunity within their position," he said. "Our orientation leaders went above and beyond in our region, and represented our commitment to the orientation process."

To learn more about UHCL's Office of Orientation and New Student Programs, go online.