College implements new orientation programs

In a collaborative interdepartmental effort, the College introduced two new pre-orientation programs this year – one catering to international students and the other to first-generation college students. Both programs, which began a few days before First Days, focused on easing the transition to the College and addressing the specific challenges faced by students of the two groups. The new programs were spearheaded by the Dean’s Office and Office for Institutional Diversity.

“It’s been clear that the College needs to do more to help these students make the transition,” said Dean Merrill.

International students arrived on campus August 23, followed by first-generation students on August 24. First Days commenced on August 26.

International students were able to explore intercultural issues, from travel planning to shopping venues in Williamstown, in their pre-orientation. They also had the opportunity to meet others in similar situations. Unlike orientations for international students in years past, it allowed them to partake in all parts of First Days.

“Being thrown into the craziness that is college life without any sort of introduction to the culture and practices would be very difficult,” said Rachel Rosten ’10, Junior Advisor co-president. “It’s important for them to connect with other students who are also not from this country, because they have other people who understand what they are going through.”

The program for first-generation students centered on financial resources and aid. Students participated in workshops about topics such as monetary scholarships and student employment. Both programs incorporated personal meetings with financial aid officers. “We felt we could better address some important and distinct issues that these first-generation students experience by setting aside some time before the very busy First Days,” Merrill said.

While these programs do reverse a 2002 policy establishing a uniform arrival time to foster class cohesion, research by the Office for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity has shown that transition issues must be addressed earlier for maximum effectiveness.

Not all are convinced. “Initially, I was skeptical of the first-generation students program,” Rosten said. “I felt, and still do feel, that it just highlights differences between students where differences do not need to be highlighted. I also felt like some of the lectures offered during the first-generation program could have been beneficial to the class as whole.”

Merrill underscored that changes to the orientation programs are far from complete as the College is just beginning to re-evaluate orientation and many revisions are to come.

“Mike Reed [Vice-President for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity] and I are in the process of assessing both these programs and have also begun a process of evaluating First Days as a whole,” she said.