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Orientation efforts designed to relieve stress

Peggy Sarlin of Manhattan, second from right, asks a question during a parent to parent session July 11 in the FA-Watters Theater. Sarlin’s son, Jonathan, will attend Binghamton in the fall.
Several new initiatives are designed to help incoming students and their parents get more out of orientation.

The two-day Beginnings program, held several times throughout July, allows new students and their families to prepare for the transition to the University. That means getting them comfortable with life on campus as well as what’s expected in the classroom.

This summer, a pilot program let some incoming freshmen schedule some of their courses before orientation. There were also new panel discussions for parents who wanted to get insights from parents of current students and recent graduates.

Students in the pilot scheduling program were asked to fill out an online survey about their interests, possible major and previous coursework before being assigned two courses. They completed their schedules during orientation, when other students had to choose their full course lineups.

“One of the reasons for doing this is to give students a schedule that helps them succeed that first semester,” said Jennifer Schorr, special assistant to the provost and the leader of a committee that considered a range of issues related to orientation.

She noted that after students hear about the University’s degree requirements, they’re inevitably eager to begin fulfilling them. Some students arrive with a clear idea about their major and career goals; others have no plan. Scheduling can be overwhelming for all of these students, so settling on half of their courses ahead of time can relieve a bit of that pressure.

While the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science has been “prescheduling” its students in three courses for a few years, this is a new effort in the other schools.

In Harpur College, all incoming freshmen were invited to fill out a detailed online survey. At the end, they could print a chart listing the requirements they had already fulfilled or click on links to see which courses would meet other requirements. Some students also volunteered to be pre-scheduled.

Thom Hanford, senior academic adviser and creator of Harpur’s survey Web pages, notes it’s an easier introduction to the General Education system than students have had in the past. He even built in a way for students to use instant messenger to contact him with questions while they worked on the survey.

Jill Seymour, undergraduate academic adviser for the College of Community and Public Affairs, led the committee that developed the pre-scheduling plan. She said one result of the project is that students had earlier contact with academic advisers than in years past. Students asked questions in April, May and June that she often hears in September and October.

“The more questions you can get answered before you come,” she said, “the more confident you’re going to be when you get here.”

Seymour noted that Computing Services provided essential support for the project.

The bottom line for new students is that less time spent worrying about registration means more time to see the campus, make new friends and find out about extracurricular activities, all of which are at the heart of orientation.

Parents, of course, face a range of different concerns as they prepare to send their children to college.

A new “parent-to-parent” session was added to the orientation schedule this year to address some of those issues.

Panelists for the sessions are parents of current students or recent graduates. Many work at the University; others are Binghamton alumni. Donna DiStefano, Gary McCaslin and Jim Sullivan fielded questions during one session last week.

All three encouraged parents to remember that the University will consider their children “independent learners,” meaning that it’s up to the students themselves to take advantage of the wide array of resources available on campus.

Questions ranged from how to use the Career Development Center to whether the panelists’ children had studied overseas.

McCaslin told parents that time, studies and money are the essential aspects of the transition to college.

He wanted his daughter to think about herself as a consumer — and to consider how much money she was wasting if she went to class unprepared or skipped a program.

DiStefano, an alumna and secretary in the provost’s office, struck an especially reassuring tone.

“You really have made a great decision in choosing this school for your children,” she told the audience. “Binghamton is a nurturing place.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08