Monday, July 20, 2020

Newest Prairie Stars meet through virtual KickStart

KickStart Orientation is a UIS staple in preparing new Prairie Stars for a transition from home to campus. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's orientation transitioned to an all-online format, and according Lisa McGuire, director of New Student Orientation and Parent Relations, it has been successful. 

Behind the scenes, McGuire and her team of experienced orientation leaders worked fast to attend webinars and trainings on how to take their programming online. They were guided by schools who had years of experience in online orientations.

“The National Orientation Directors’ Association was a great place for sharing ideas on how larger schools do online orientation or have components of it online. It was like having 3000 colleagues sharing resources to help with online development,” McGuire said.

McGuire used the university’s new learning management system, Canvas, to build orientation modules introducing new Prairie Stars to academic advising and expectations, financial information, student success, living on campus and technology. An optional module on student life and opportunity fairs was also available. KickStart attendees begin with a 90-minute online Zoom that includes an introduction to McGuire and her team; they then are placed in breakout rooms with other students and orientation leaders like UIS senior Libby Price.

“The whole point of summer orientation is to get to know each other, which is a little harder on Zoom, but we’re getting there,” Price said. “We have several ice breakers that help students get comfortable in a group and we allow them to share their thoughts and feelings anonymously on going to college.”

McGuire said with the change to online format, she was not able to hire all of her orientation leaders back, but those who are working, like Price, have gone above and beyond making the experience special for incoming freshmen.

“It is our job to create that first sense of community, engagement and relationship building,” said McGuire. "We are missing the in-person component, especially the evenings -- that’s where relationships develop -- but our orientation leaders are going above and beyond to keep these new students in contact with each other. They are hosting extra activities like trivia nights each week where new students can log in, trying to create those experiences and maintain those interactions.”

McGuire admits it was a lot of work to transition KickStart to an online format, but it was worth the effort.

“An online version of KickStart had been on our back-burner for a while,” McGuire said. “This year it became a front burner project.”

McGuire also credits the many faculty and staff who helped in the success of the transition and created content through videos and Google slides to share information or experiences with new students. 

And even when things go back to normal, and KickStart can return to an in-person format, McGuire said she plans to maintain some of the online components she worked so hard to build. “There are more things we can look at, things we can do online to create a richer experience in a shorter time and be mindful of costs,” she said.

New students will have one final Kickstart module available to them closer to move-in day which will give them the latest information on plans for move-in and health checks.

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