Digital introduction: Welcoming new students virtually

An empty campus centerView print quality image
Campus is much quieter because of the COVID-19 pandemic and services being temporarily closed. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

IUPUI is typically abuzz this time of the year with the eager excitement and nervous anticipation that students experience during their orientation or campus visits.

But future Jaguars are experiencing the campus a little differently this summer. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic limiting visitors to campus, the Division of Enrollment Management and the Orientation Services team have been working to re-create that IUPUI welcoming experience virtually.

The departments had three weeks to transition all of the in-person and on-campus programming to online. They had to reschedule previously scheduled visits, coordinate with the academic schools and student services offices, and create processes that would be valuable and easily understandable for students. All while shifting staff to a remote-working environment.

"This was a great campuswide effort," said Stephanie Keiner, director of orientation services. "The collaboration was phenomenal."

These campus visits are typically an important step for incoming students to learn about the university, meet fellow students and prepare to embark on their college journey. But because of the public health situation, they cannot physically experience the vibrance of the Campus Center or the beauty of Wood Fountain. This challenge of connection is at the top of both departments' minds, as virtually replicating IUPUI's on-campus vibe is difficult.

"We have followed best practices of industry leaders to create programming that engages students, and it can be very challenging when everything is done virtually," Director of Undergraduate Admissions Errol Wint said.

Staff in the Division of Enrollment Management are continuously reaching out to interested students through text messages, phone calls and emails. They are using Zoom to connect with students in their preferred method, whether in a virtual admission presentation or a one-on-one counseling appointment. Zoom has also allowed the team to use pictures and videos to help showcase campus digitally.

The virtual admissions presentation features opportunities to learn about IUPUI, discover the next steps in the admissions process, talk with student campus ambassadors and participate in a Q&A with the admissions host. After the admissions presentation, staff connect students with the academic unit of their choosing or with other campus services to get specific information.

The staff are also dedicated to supporting initiatives of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as 40 percent of incoming students are Pell Grant eligible. The Division of Enrollment Management is reaching out by phone to students who might not have access to the internet or a computer.

A popular selection for students has been individualized visits, for which students complete a form with their preferred method of communication and areas about which they are seeking information. They can sign up for a drop-in admissions counseling session, available Monday through Friday, or request an individualized counseling session.

"We know that connection is important," Wint said. "All of our experiences have been designed with that in mind, as we are focused on making the admissions process easy to navigate for interested students."

For students who have been accepted and are starting in the fall, the IUPUI homepage features a large "attend orientation online" clickable link. It directs students to a 12-step process that walks students through their orientation journey. New Jaguars start orientation with a welcoming video.

The 12 steps are divided into four portions:

  1. Get started.
  2. Prepare for advising.
  3. Learn about campus.
  4. Get connected.

Just as they would in the traditional on-campus orientation, students complete placement tests, meet with advisors, learn how to schedule classes and get other crucial information. The online orientation also has a virtual tour of campus, videos from individual schools, the opportunity to start the process to get a CrimsonCard, a series of modules called Jaguar Launch that is designed to prepare students for their first semester and more.

Each step of the process has an estimated time to complete, and the sections are easy to follow.

"The virtual orientation experience strives to create a personal connection with the student from the front-page video," Keiner said. "We want students to have a clear explanation of what virtual orientation is and what they can expect. We want the videos in Jaguar Launch and each piece of the virtual process to create an experience and to be a showpiece of the university that draws them into the campus and educates them in a personal and informative way."

This incoming collegiate freshman class experienced a sudden and bizarre end to high school, and now they are starting college in a nontraditional format as well. Fall will bring a unique set of circumstances, with a modified learning experience and new safety measures implemented. It's been a bumpy road for these students, and that is not lost on IUPUI's staff.

"The Office of Admissions has been collaborating with campus partners to ensure that the fall 2020 semester and campus experience will remain transformational for students," Wint said.

"We are excited to welcome all new Jaguars. We understand that this is a challenging and unexpected time, and our goal is to help students navigate the process and ensure a successful start to their IUPUI college experience."