Frosh Council analyzes survey for feedback on First Days

The Frosh Council recently released the results of a survey on the mid-orientation period of First Days, conducted in order to investigate flaws within the system and assess the effectiveness of recent changes in scheduling.

“Where Am I?,” Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-Years (WOOLF), the International Student Orientation (ISO) and Windows on Williams (WOW) have all considered improvements to their programs for next year, based on the reported results.

The single greatest problem with the mid-orientation period was a lack of information about the programs during the sign-up process. “[The Council recommended] a prospectus-like pamphlet, detailing each program so that students are not confused about what options are available to them,” said Andres Schabelman ’06, Frosh Council Representative to College Council and co-coordinator of the survey with Phillip Huy ’06.

Schabelman reported that the administration “is in fact taking on this project. . .and is in the process of making this information packet for incoming first-years.”

“We are hoping to make the process of signing up for a program smoother and less confusing,” said Norma Lopez, assistant dean of the College.

In addition to complaints concerning a lack of information, students also had criticisms about aspects of the individual programs, which their coordinators are now taking into account in planning for 2003.

“Where Am I?,” a new program, was intended to allow first-year students to see the area around Williams and become more familiar with their surroundings.

While 77 percent of surveyed participants rated their experiences as “satisfactory” or “awesome,” the survey made four main recommendations for the program. These included planning fewer activities , spending more time organizing events and training group leadership.

The coordinators of “Where Am I?” plan to change the program according to these recommendations. “We’re working very hard to balance the desirability of getting out of the vans with the desirability of getting beyond the edges of the campus,” said Richard Spalding, chaplain to the College and coordinator of community service. “The other common suggestions are also being incorporated into the planning for September. [These include] better bonding and group-building time, more thorough training for group leaders, more program flexibility, more informal bonding time and a real party at the very end.”

WOOLF, a series of outdoor trips run by the Williams Outing Club, was the most popular mid-orientation program, with 60 percent of respondents participating. The informational problem was the most distinct within the WOOLF program, as 50 percent of respondents indicated that they would have liked to know more about the trips before deciding which to choose. Most desired more information on the length and difficulty of the trip. Despite this fact, 93 percent indicated that they found the trips either “satisfactory” or “awesome.”

The survey had four recommendations for the WOOLF program. The quality and overstocking of food was a major complaint.

The first night in Towne Field House was another common complaint, while transition from WOOLF trips to advisor meetings and first semester was also addressed, as a fair number of students found this to be an issue. The strongest suggestion, however, was for more information prior to the trips.

The coordinators of WOOLF report progress in fixing these flaws. “We will definitely be providing more information during the sign-up period and getting frosh information about their actual trip earlier,” said Joanna Touger ’04, student co-coordinator of WOOLF 2003. “As far as the first night, it was interesting to hear what people said, and we are discussing changing it. Food is something we are always working on, so we hope to incorporate whatever suggestions we can.”

The ISO is a program designed to introduce international students to the campus and help facilitate the transition. Only 5% of those surveyed participated in the program, and almost all participated in “Where Am I?” in addition to ISO. The main recommendation regarding ISO was that “the program be run at a time either before First Days or shortly after the mid-orientation period. This would allow international students to get accustomed to their new environment without taking them away from their American peers during First Days or mid-orientation.”

This idea was reaffirmed in the survey by the observation that only 50% of international students responded, significantly less than the 70% total freshman class response rate. The survey inferred that this relationship may be “indicative of the relationship that international students have with the rest of their entries. . .a low response rate could be an indication of a low interaction of internationals with their American peers in the entries.” According to Schabelman, the ISO is taking these considerations into account and “is considering moving its program to a different time.”

WOW is designed to introduce students to diversity issues on campus, and the majority of participants are minority students. Of survey respondents, 35% participated in WOW, most of whom also participated in another program. Although WOW was widely praised by survey respondents, the Multi-Cultural Center (MCC) is changing the structure of the program for next year in order to better facilitate participation in WOW and other programs by reducing conflict.

The plan is to spread the orientation throughout the first three months of the semester, including two meetings during First Days, weekly night dinners and a final WOW October Retreat, said Gail Bouknight-Davis, Associate Director of the MCC.

“Rather than overloading students with information and resources during the first week, WOW offers resources throughout their first couple of months at college, sustains the contact among first year ALANA (African, Latino/a, Asian, and Native American) students, and provides a forum for dialogue about ‘surviving and thriving’ once students have had an opportunity to experience Williams,” Bouknight-Davis said.

The survey was distributed through the Frosh Council Representatives in each entry. The survey had a 70% return rate in less than three days. Following the release of the report, Schabelman and Huy met with the heads of all the programs and the Dean’s Office to present the results and give recommendations.

Schabelman and Huy will appear on WilliNet on Wednesday, February 26th to present the results of the project to the student body.