Getting the most out of the York experience

Remember your first days at university? Orientation consisted of a whirlwind of events and sleepless nights. By the time you settled into the routine of classes, residence and studying, there were midterms to write.

For most first-year students, the traditional fun and games of Frosh Week welcoming activities overshadow academic orientation and have more to do with social orientation. This year, first-year students entering York University will experience a different kind of welcome in a year-long fully integrated academic and social orientation.  

“You could say it is a big, warm welcome mat for the whole University,” says Frank Cappadocia (right), director of York’s Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development. “In the past, we started planning our academic orientation each May with our efforts culminating in September and there was no central coordination of academic orientation. Each of the colleges hosted their own events.”

With no desire to replace the comprehensive college initiatives in academic orientation, Cappadocia felt it was important to support students entering York throughout their first year of study. He wanted an integrated University-wide academic orientation designed to help students get the most of their York experience.

A committee was convened to provide input into re-jigging academic orientation at York and its membership included student community leaders from the York Federation of Students, the Student Centre, the college masters, Cappadocia, and staff members from Student Services and the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development. Brian Poser, York’s manager, student organizations, and Patrick Legris, student relations coordinator, also played key roles in the process. The group set to work figuring out how to increase the size and effectiveness of York’s welcome mat.

“The committee had two key goals, one to create a University-wide initiative without underscoring the activities organized by each of York’s colleges and the second was to take a ‘whole-year’ approach to University orientation planning,” said Cappadocia. “We wanted to shift the emphasis from event to process with the idea that we wanted to decrease student anxiety and increase student success.

“Our intent was to get information about York’s service providers and the kind of assistance they offer out to the students in manageable chunks that they could use,” he explained. “The kind of information that is important to students – social activities, opportunities to get involved in clubs and organizations, learning skills workshops, study skills workshops, information on money management and wellness.” 

Left: York’s integrated orientation is both fun and informative

Most universities send enormous mailings to first-year students over the summer before they enter university, explained Cappadocia. Then once students arrive on campus, they are thrown into a mix-master of September orientation events at the same time as they’re getting used to residence and lectures. For many, the crash back to reality arrives with midterm examinations and that’s when the frantic calls go out to their parents.

“York’s commitment to students is that the University will support them throughout the year,” says Cappadocia. “The University has opted for a different kind of approach that sets it apart from other Canadian universities – York is including parents in its orientation and the University is supplying both students and their parents with the information they need when they need it.”

By including parents in the University academic orientation the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development is developing a key underpinning of support for first-year students. “Parents have a different focus. Many are partnering with their children in the University experience,” explains Cappadocia. “Why waste time trying to get around parents? Including parents and increasing their knowledge of the different kinds of supports that are available for their child then reinforces the message they give to their child if a problem or concern arises – perhaps by suggesting note-taking or study skills workshop.”  

The orientation team has gone steps further by developing an online chat session for parents of first-year students held on Aug. 16, a half-day parents’ orientation held on Aug. 28 and a comprehensive resource guide titled “Good to Go” for students. A parent’s version of the guidebook, titled “Free Your Mind”, was also created. In addition to the guidebooks, the team is coordinating a series of targeted mailings to students which will reinforce different themes which relate to the different situations students encounter in their first year. Parents can also sign up to receive regular e-mail updates. Each college is providing academic workshops for students and the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development is also offering “The First Year Experience Series” – six sessions to help students build academic skills, answering questions that arise as they begin their studies. The sessions will begin the third week in September.

“We need to keep up the flow of information,” explains Cappadocia. “The life of a first-year student is overwhelming – they have so much being thrown at them and it is physically impossible for students to absorb it all at once.”

During York Day on Sept. 6 and Yorkfest on Sept. 14 look for staff from York’s Centre of Student Community & Leadership Development who will be out in full force reinforcing the many supports available to first-year students.

For more information on York’s unique approach to orientation, click here.