The key to success

While the official migration of 7,100 new students to York University for the start of orientation doesn’t start until Welcome Week which takes place Aug. 28 to Sept. 5, first-year students at York have already experienced a summer’s worth of a comprehensive orientation designed to prepare them for the challenges of their first year of university life.

Orientation of new students to York actually began in earnest this spring with a new venture known as the RED Zone and continued throughout the summer with a series of mailings and e-mails. York’s RED Zone is the first initiative of the New Student Transition Council. A combined effort of the offices of the Vice-President Academic and Vice-President Students, the council brings together Faculty advising centres, York’s colleges, the Office of Admissions, York’s Student Housing Department, Parking & Transportation, Security, Student Community & Leadership Development, Student Client Services, Career Centre, Alumni Services and Marketing & Communications.

In the Zone, nine senior students (well-versed in all things York) provided information to new students and their parents. Visitors to the Zone were introduced to services, programs and resources to help make the transition to York smooth and successful. New students were encouraged to visit the Zone either before or after their advising/enrolment appointment and there they spent about 90 minutes completing a number of tasks, including getting their York student card, learning about orientation, registering for extra-curricular activities, and learning how to access Passport York. (See the May 4 issue of YFile.)

The Zone and the comprehensive nature of York’s orientation are the result of years of careful planning which launched last year with an integrated academic and social orientation and official orientation handbook. (See the Aug. 29, 2005 issue of YFile.) This year’s event has seen the development of a central orientation Web site which will act as the hub for the University’s orientation events.

Frank Cappadocia (right), director of York’s Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development, has been working with a core team of staff, faculty and students and the New Student Transition Council to ensure that first-year students get the most out of their university experience. It’s a well-known fact that a positive orientation experience coupled with the first few weeks at university have a huge impact on student success, says Cappadocia. Learning how to balance the demands of academic and social life at university represents a critical skill.

“Heading off to university is a frightening experience,” says Cappadocia. “We are working hard to take away that fear and replace it with a positive, meaningful introduction to university life.” Innovations such as the Zone were created, explained Cappadocia, to help students and their families ease into life at York.

Right and below: Scenes from Bethune’s academic orientation

Following their visit to the Zone, students received mailings and e-mails throughout the summer. “Students received a comprehensive orientation package which includes a schedule of academic and social orientation events. We have emphasized to students the importance of the new orientation page on the York Web site as being the best place for up-to-date information on their orientation,” said Cappadocia.

Other orientation innovations include the close collaboration among York’s colleges in designing the academic component of orientation and sharing knowledge about past year’s successes. Four of York’s seven colleges – Bethune, McLaughlin, Stong and Vanier – have already provided an early summer academic orientation for first-year students and, in some cases, their parents. All of York’s colleges will roll out their academic orientation as part of Welcome Week events.

Academic orientation includes sessions for students on a host of different subjects, including:

  • getting access to their timetables;
  • paying fees;
  • succeeding in their studies;
  • writing papers;
  • studying for exams
  • clubs and extracurricular activities;
  • getting a gym membership;
  • applying for awards and bursaries;
  • finding part-time work on campus;
  • where to go if there is a problem;
  • computer support on campus, and
  • staying healthy.

So, In addition to learning how to avoid the dreaded “Frosh 15” weight gain and why it is important to wear flip-flops in the shower, first-year students gain skills in how to study, write exams, where everything is located on the campus through York’s comprehensive orientation.

“This kind of introduction to York University sets students up to experience a successful first year,” says Cappadocia.

For more information visit York’s Orientation Web site.