New 5C students react to an all-online orientation season

A blue and orange sagehen stuffed animal sits on a shirt reading "Pomona College Class of 2024".
Pomona College welcomed students with a Class of 2024 t-shirt and a Cecil the Sagehen stuffed animal. (Ethan Diaz • The Student Life)

For incoming first-years at the 5Cs, orientation typically marks a grueling week of trips, packed auditoriums and long days of making new friends. But this year, the class of 2024’s orientations were replaced by live Zoom webinars, pre-recorded presentations and virtual social events.

Pomona College

New Pomona College students attended orientation virtually from Aug. 17 to 22, taking online placement exams, consulting with their liberal arts advisors and registering for classes prior to that.

Josh Eisenberg, associate dean of students and campus life, said that Pomona wanted to prioritize relationship building in orientation sessions, while keeping sessions short and streamlined. 

“We were very clear that we wanted to limit the number of sessions per day,” Eisenbeg said. “We know that Zoom fatigue is real. We wanted to prioritize what students had a chance to learn about and make sure that students had choice in their orientation, maybe even more than they normally would.”

Shelsy Zarate PO ’24 said she was content with the orientation’s social activities, like Zoom hangouts divided by region and game nights.

What … would have worked better than the way that they did it?” Zarate said. “They tried to make sure that we knew who and what was available for us. I started recognizing more faces, which made me feel nice, especially because I didn’t realize how small our school actually was.”

Eisenberg said that Pomona planned orientation with shorter sessions spread among the day to encourage greater participation. 

The other thing we got good feedback on, especially with international students, was having two sessions,” Eisenberg said. For most orientation days, matching sessions were offered in the morning and afternoon to allow for participation by students living around the world. 

Harvey Mudd College

Harvey Mudd College instituted a multi-month online orientation starting in July, with mostly pre-recorded orientation sessions released every two weeks, according to Evetth Gonzalez, assistant dean for campus life. Live orientation events for new students were held on Aug. 22 and 23.

In between orientation sessions, new Mudd students participated in reflection discussions with their peers. They also signed up for debriefs in which they could meet other first-years and engage with returning students. 

“Not having that ability to go next door over and ask a question to a mentor or peer, not being able to sit down and talk with a group of classmates has been challenging and different,” Carter Moyer HM ’24 said. 

Moyer also cited the challenge of “short notice” —  he had been planning to move into a dorm on campus, but when HMC went online for the fall ten days before his planned move-in date, he hadn’t prepared for creating a social network entirely online.

To make up for the lack of in-person interaction, new students were given the opportunity to interact with more mentors than they normally would have during orientation, according to Karen Sandoval, assistant director of housing and first-year experiences and Chris Sundberg, associate dean of students and director of campus life.

In addition to advice from mentors during the summer, Moyer also found support through a Mudd class of 2024 Discord server. There, he has been able to ask questions about classes and build relationships with fellow first-years.

“That was really helpful for a lot of people, myself included, because it helped relieve some anxiety over what we do need to know and things we don’t have to worry about,” Moyer said. “[Discord] makes up for the dorms, dining halls and quads.”

Claremont McKenna College

From July 20 to Aug. 23, Claremont McKenna College held orientation sessions for their incoming first-years. The largest event was a “Welcome to CMC” Zoom held on Aug. 22, with other sessions being more interactive, such as the First-Gen Student Social on Aug. 13.

Claire Brady CM ’24, however, found it difficult to connect with her peers during virtual orientation.

“It was definitely not ideal to be honest, because I think orientation is typically a time when people are meeting a ton of other first-years and having fun and just getting into the college scene,” Brady said. “So it was a little funny sitting in my bed and trying to have a conversation with people over the computer.”

Despite the disconnected feeling that came with having orientation online, Brady appreciated CMC’s effort to unify the first-year class.

“I was expecting more programming to get to know other CMC people, rather than just get to know the organizations on campus,” Brady said. “I’m still glad that there was some semblance to an introduction to the school.” 

Scripps College 

Scripps College began orientation Aug. 3 with a welcome session from Brenda Ice, director of campus life, and ended Aug. 21 with a closing ceremony from President Lara Tiedens. Throughout the three weeks, optional events were offered daily for Scripps first-years to attend.

Optional events included an academic open house, career services information sessions, a game night and a movie night for students to meet their fellow classmates and learn more about the services offered by the college.

Lily Ryan SC ’24 felt that Scripps’ virtual platform of choice, Guidebook, helped her navigate the virtual orientation experience easily by providing event times and Zoom links in one spot. She did, however, feel overwhelmed by Scripps’ orientation schedule after a while. 

“I tried at first to attend all of them but then I feel like they got repetitive and I was losing interest,” Ryan said. “There were two per day. That’s a lot.”

Ryan also wished that orientation had included more information about the type of software students would be using once classes started.

“They probably could’ve talked a little bit more of the specifics in class,” Ryan said. “I didn’t know what Sakai was until the first day of school.” 

Pitzer College

Pitzer College’s orientation started in July and was conducted through Zoom meetings, webinars and asynchronous presentations. Conducted mostly via Sakai, new students had the opportunity to listen to different professors, take online math and language placement exams and talk with a student panel, according to the orientation website. 

If interested, students could join a live Zoom webinar about a specific major, such as the “Success in the Sciences” webinar hosted by Keck Science Dean Ulysses Sofia and Pre-Health Professions Advisor Susie Fang. 

For Taylor Hagen PZ ’24, Pitzer’s orientation was like an admissions event, since she got to learn more about Pitzer and what to expect in the virtual fall semester. Hagen particularly enjoyed how Pitzer’s orientation experience was geared towards students’ families as well.

“It definitely helped my mom feel a little bit better about knowing where her money was going and knowing that I was still going to be receiving a sufficient education even though we’re online,” Hagen said. “I think that after hearing all of the panelists speak and the students talk about how much they love Pitzer and even though we’re going to be online we’ll still feel a sense of community; that was really reassuring for her.”

Overall, Hagen found orientation to be a good blend of informational and interactive sessions that helped make the start to online classes a less intimidating venture. 

“Coming into Pitzer, I didn’t really know fully everything that I had accessible to me and I didn’t really know too much about the school, so it was a good way to learn more about Pitzer and put names to faces,” Hagen said. “It definitely made me less worried and more excited about starting school.” 

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