RED Zone proves once again to be the hot spot for new students

Above: From left, RED Zone student ambassadors Graham Allen, Christina Huang, Caitlin Crawford, Rachael Gumiela, Anthony Antonacci

York’s RED Zone has ended another banner year, its fourth as the place for incoming students looking for a smooth transition into their university years.

When it closed shop for the season on Aug. 14, the RED Zone had helped more than 6,500 students and guests. Students made up 70 per cent of that number while the remainder were family members and friends of students who were also taking a keen interest in York.

The RED Zone offered students a friendly space to interact with peers and to gather information about life at York. Most students and guests dropped into the RED Zone, located in the Complex One Computer Lounge (034 Founders College), after their on-campus advising appointment. With its comfy red couches, hand-picked musical playlist and rotating menu of pizza, sandwiches and fruit, the Zone was designed to help students relax and formulate any questions they might have.

Right: Graham Allen assisting a new student in the RED Zone

Visiting students learned about York’s college system and received a button bearing the banner of their college. The highly trained student ambassadors who staffed the Zone were uniquely qualified to answer all manner of queries about York, ranging from where to find essential student services to how to purchase textbooks. Some of the most commonly asked questions were about Academic Orientation and Social Orientation during Welcome Week, financial aid, transportation and sports and recreation. Visitors got the opportunity to put their new knowledge to the test by playing the RED Zone trivia game, which automatically entered them in a monthly draw for an iPod touch.

Since the RED Zone ambassadors are current students, new students were able to receive very specific information tailored to their individual needs. Athletes could learn about varsity and intramural sports, law school hopefuls could learn about the admission process and fine arts majors could learn about FASAM, the Fine Arts Student Ambassadors & Mentors program.

Catering to each student’s interests made the RED Zone a special experience and ensured each student had the information to make their first year a complete success. “The RED Zone is a one-stop shop for everything York. It’s a quiet space where students can find everything they need without having to run all over campus,” said Claire Simpson, president of McLaughlin College Council and a former RED Zone student ambassador.

This year’s eight student ambassadors represented a broad range of involvement in the York community, from a varsity football player to residence dons, from College Council members to club representatives. The knowledge they already possessed was broadened through training from a variety of York departments including Student Financial Services, Parking & Transportation Services, and the YU-Card Office.

Left: Student ambassador Christina Huang (second from left) assisting a family visiting the RED Zone

“Something new that was introduced this year and which I thought was essential, was continued training throughout the summer, while the RED Zone was operating,” said Michael Kasaboski, orientation & student experience assistant with York’s Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development. “It helped to keep the team on the cutting edge of new initiatives and changing information at York.”

“I was particularly happy to introduce a social media aspect to the RED Zone this year,” said Kasaboski. With the popularity of social networking tools, the RED Zone experience doesn’t end for students when they leave campus. The new RED Zone Twitter and RED Zone Facebook pages, which launched in May, are alive with student chatter and have proven to be a popular outreach endeavour. Now students and parents can ask questions they may have forgotten while visiting campus, or students from other parts of the world who cannot travel to campus can experience the Zone and make their voices heard.

“The official RED Zone Web site was also newly designed,” explained Kasaboski, “providing profiles of each student ambassador and downloadable PDF versions of all the important documents that were available in the RED Zone, such as the Student and Parent Guides and the Orientation Fast Facts.” All of these improvements harness popular technology in an effort to be environmentally and fiscally responsible while expanding the RED Zone beyond its physical boundaries, ensuring as many students as possible receive the individual attention they require.

Lucy Bellissimo, associate registrar of Systems & communications in York’s Department of Systems, Communications & Academic Scheduling, was happy about the partnership between the RED Zone and various York services. Her daughter, an incoming student, visited the RED Zone this year and found the ambassadors, to be helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming. “I think it helps new students feel good about the types of people they will meet when they start at York,” said Bellissimo.

While closed in person, the RED Zone closed will remain open and active on the Web. The RED Zone student ambassadors will also be present at upcoming Welcome Week orientation events including Parent Orientation, Sept. 5, and YorkFest, Sept. 22 and 23.