Staff working hard to deliver meaningful and engaging online experience
This September, thousands of UBC students will make history when they take part in the university’s first-ever virtual orientation.
With most classes being offered online this fall due to COVID-19, UBC’s three hallmark orientation events—Jump Start, Imagine, and Create—will also be delivered virtually. Staff have been working hard planning a virtual orientation that will be a meaningful and engaging experience for new and returning students.
“This is a historic moment for UBC,” says Amandeep Breen, senior director of student engagement for the Vice-President, Students. “This year marks the first time that orientation will be offered entirely online. Shifting to virtual orientation in response to the COVID-19 allows us to ensure the safety of our students while still offering an exciting opportunity for students to connect with one another, faculty and staff, from wherever they are in the world.”
Virtual orientation kicks off Aug. 31 with Jump Start, a five-day program at UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan designed to give new students their first look at university life, to meet their professors and to make new friends.
Students can participate from anywhere in the world as JumpStart will include both live and pre-recorded activities to accommodate for time zone differences and accessibility. Each day will include two to three hours of scheduled events, plus a number of sessions, socials, and other offerings that students can take part in at their own pace. Just like many courses at UBC, Jump Start will be using online tools such as Canvas, Zoom, social media, discussion boards, and group chats to connect.
Jump Start will also include focused programming for students who self-identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPoC), as well as students who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary), two-spirit, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBT2SQIA+).
On Tuesday, Sept. 8, the annual Imagine UBC Pep Rally—a UBC Vancouver tradition since 1997—will be streamed online for the first time. A similar event, called Create Kick-Off, will take place for UBC Okanagan students on the same day. All members of the university are invited to attend these events, which will feature welcome addresses from UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa Ono, Alma Mater Society (AMS) President Cole Evans, and UBC Students’ Union Okanagan (UBCSUO) President Ali Poostizadeh.
“In previous years, the Imagine UBC Pep Rally was only open to first-year students due to space constraints in Thunderbird Stadium,” says Breen. “But this year, we are able to invite both new and returning students, faculty and staff, for a virtual ceremony that will include many traditional elements as well as some exciting new features that are now possible in the virtual environment.”
The university is also collaborating with the student government, the AMS in Vancouver and the UBCSUO in the Okanagan, to feature the many student-led clubs and service groups on campus during welcome activities. New and returning students will learn about the range of opportunities that exist for them to contribute to, and benefit from, student life and peer connections at UBC.
Following orientation, all first-year students in Vancouver will be welcomed into two online Collegia— Virtual UBC Collegia and the Virtual Indigenous Students’ Collegium—designed for students to meet other students, ask questions to their peers and upper-year students, access resources, and enjoy social events together. When it’s safe to return to campus, students will have a chance to meet their new friends in real life at an in-person welcome event.
Similarly, in the Okanagan, first-year students will receive guidance from upper-level peer mentors on all facets of life at UBC, from social events to academic skills to connections to resources. UBC Okanagan runs UBC 101, an online orientation course that features everything from textbooks to housing to medical insurance and degree planning. The program is designed to provide a general introduction for new students to all things UBCO and is available online 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
“While our priority is the health and safety of the UBC community, we are also committed to ensuring a high-quality virtual orientation that supports all our students in building and maintaining peer connections,” says Phil Bond, director of student development and advising in UBC Okanagan’s Office of the Associate Vice President, Students. “Orientation may be online this year, but that doesn’t mean the student experience has to be put on hold.”
Gaby Sunario, a third-year food science major who also works as a first-year experience student coordinator at the UBC Centre for Student Involvement and Careers, has been involved in the planning of UBC’s first virtual orientation.
As an international student whose family moved to Vancouver while she was in high school, Sunario credits her first-year orientation experience with helping her make new friends on campus, as well connect with other students from her home country of Indonesia.
“Orientation was the highlight of my entire UBC experience,” says Sunario. “I really saw the benefits that it had on my academic life as well as my social life and my sense of belonging to the UBC community, so it was important for me to give back to other students and contribute in my own way.”
Sunario says she is excited to help make UBC’s first-ever virtual orientation a success.
“Although we don’t get to meet face-to-face for orientation this year, we are all going through this experience together so we may as well approach it with optimism,” she says. “This has never been done before, but we are all trying our best to create the greatest virtual experience possible.”
Shiven Vinod Khera, a fourth-year international student in the Faculty of Management at UBC Okanagan, says orientation is also crucial in helping students shift from high school to university.
“Orientations do an absolutely fantastic job of letting students get a head start to smoothly transition from high school to university and I’m really grateful for my smooth transition which made the last three years the best years till date for me,” Khera says.
“Even though orientations are online, they definitely hold a tremendous amount of importance and are a big asset for incoming students.”