The University Record, April 30, 1996

New office focuses on meeting needs of incoming students

The University's Mentorship Program brings together faculty and staff with first-year students to help them adjust to their new surroundings. The newly formed Office of New Student Programs coordinates the program, along with Orientation and the Welcome to Michigan Program. The Office currently is looking for faculty and staff interested in becoming mentors.

Photo be Bob Kalmbach

By Julie A. Peterson
News and Information Services

Imagine being a new student and trying to navigate this huge and complex place called the University of Michigan. It's difficult enough for those of us who have had some practice.

Being tuned in to the needs of new students and finding a way to make the University a friendlier place is the mission of the newly formed Office of New Student Programs (ONSP).

The office was created in September in response to a report commissioned by then-Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr. on the first-year student experience. Three working groups including broad campus representation presented an extensive list of recommendations on how to improve the experiences of first-year students, beginning from the time students make their first serious inquiry for information about the U-M.

One fact which emerged in the report was that services for entering students were scattered across campus, says ONSP Director Penni Reed. ONSP is an attempt to bring a number of those programs into a single office, as well as to serve as a central resource and referral to other programs that assist new students.

Folded into the office were three existing programs: Orientation, the fall Welcome to Michigan Program and the University Mentorship Program.

"There is a level of excitement new students have about being accepted to the U-M and coming here," says Reed. "They also have a set of expectations about the University. We want to tailor our programs to that level of excitement and live up to those expectations, really listening to what students say they need."

In addition, Reed says, the University had seen Orientation in the past as the one period during which new students were held as a captive audience---so as much information as possible was piled on students during that two-and-a-half -day window. It's not surprising that not much of it stuck.

"Our new focus is to look at the first year as an opportunity to create a year-long syllabus for new students, and to de liver information and services to students in a time-relevant fashion," she says. "In re-evaluating all our programs, we're asking three questions: What does a new student need to know? When do they need to know it? And what is the best method of delivery for that information?"

A newly created ONSP newsletter will provide students with information and resources they need at various times during the year. The office's World Wide Web site, nearing completion, will serve as a window for new students, linking them to other relevant campus resources.

But perhaps the most important role of the office, Reed believes, is to support other campus units that provide services to new students by serving as a central resource and by facilitating discussion and cooperation.

Barry MacDougall, coordinator of Orientation, says one example of this has been the office's efforts in bringing together advisers from the various academic units to discuss ways to improve summer orientation.

"We learned, for instance, that for North Campus students, the scheduling was really inconvenient because they had to race back to Central Campus to register and take their computer workshops. Now we've rearranged things so that students can register right on North Campus, and if they have problems, their advisers are right there.

"Some of these things seem really simple---but we haven't gotten people together before in this way," MacDougall says.

In addition to focusing more on academic advising, this summer's Orientation will add an academic panel made up of faculty, graduate student instructors and administrators. The purpose, says MacDougall, will be to welcome students to the academic community and discuss what they can expect as they "embark on their intellectual journey." MacDougall is currently recruiting individuals to serve on the panels.

In fact, greater input from all segments of campus has been an important part of the office's planning, Reed says. A 16-member strategic planning team with members from across campus worked during the academic year to define ON SP's role and mission. Currently, a diversity advisory committee is meeting to plan not only for Orientation, but for a year-long series of educational programming.

The office, located at 3011 Student Activities Building, has seven permanent, full-time staff members and more than 60 part-time, temporary and seasonal positions, the majority of them filled by students, throughout the year. Three coordinators report to Reed: MacDougall; Jennifer Bucklin, coordinator of the Welcome to Michigan Program; and Peggy Harless, coordinato r of the University Mentorship Program.

Orientation is scheduled June 9Aug. 9. Welcome to Michigan will take place beginning with the first day of move -in Aug. 27 and running through Sept. 2. Classes begin Sept. 3.