In the midst of the many festivals and block parties, a different event is bringing visitors to Iowa City this summer: the University of Iowa’s orientation.
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Iowa’s freshman class of roughly 4,500 students has the option of visiting the campus this year. And about two-thirds of them are choosing to do so, filling the Iowa House Hotel to the brim while becoming acclimated to their new university setting.
“We’ve met many students from all over,” said UI fourth-year student Chloe Boswell, who is on the orientation team. “It’s really exciting just to see how programs are changing and how much fun people are having. And everybody’s excited right now that we’re in person, of course. But we were still equally excited during the summer when we were still online.”
Orientation is a two-part program held for incoming UI students. The first part includes an academic advising meeting and registering for courses. That is held completely online in May, June, July and August.
The second part of orientation covers campus, student resources, and what life as a Hawkeye is like.
Due to COVID-19, both programs have been fully virtual the past two years. However, this year the UI is offering students a new option.
Incoming students can choose if they want to explore campus and complete the second part of orientation virtually or in person. Students can choose to do the “Becoming a Hawkeye” on-campus orientation program that occurs throughout June and July, or learn through a series of summer webinars.
“Last year, students needed to meet in a small group with their orientation leader over Zoom,” said Tina Arthur, director of UI Orientation Services. “The in-person, one-day orientation program is really more of an in-depth dive into those resources and expectations for new students.”
While the online component is required, the option to either come to campus or learn about the UI virtually offers flexibility.
“If they’re not able to join us for the in-person component in June or July, we also run the OnIowa! Extended orientation program that includes small groups and lots of activities before classes begin in August to really set those students up for success, “Arthur said.
Before the pandemic, all aspects of orientation were required to be completed on campus.
“Now they’re doing that prep work before they’re seeing their adviser,” Arthur said. “That allows for extra time to meet one-on-one and get to know and build that relationship with their adviser.”
Arthur said the UI has seen about two-thirds of the incoming class sign up for the in-person campus experience.
‘Orientation brings a lot of people’: Hotel business is booming
Amber McNeal, general manager of the Iowa House Hotel, said the in-person orientation experience is generating revenue.
“Orientation brings a lot of people,” she said. “We have 13 dates. There’s about 900 people attending each session, and there’s two weeks, so those are our big draws.”
While the festivals downtown often create business for the hotel, McNeal said the orientation days have been overflowing with the amount of people that have shown up.
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“I’m pretty sure it’s triple of what (the UI) normally accommodate (s),” she said.
Boswell, who has been involved with orientation for the last three years as a member of the UI Orientation Services Executive Team, also went through orientation herself in 2019.
“I sort of had it in the back of my head that, ‘Oh, maybe this is something I want to do while I’m in college.’ It’s a great opportunity to connect with others, “she said. “I always knew I wanted to work on campus.”
Boswell has led orientation small groups since 2020, and she said she has not seen a big difference in levels of engagement between past years and this year.
“We saw so many students creating connections with one another during our online information sessions for students, and during the online small groups. This year, we’re continuing to see students forming and creating those same connections with one another,” Boswell said.
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‘I’m counting down the days’: Incoming freshman finds online orientation just as fulfilling
Sara Archer, an incoming UI freshman, chose to do all of his orientation online because she lives in Illinois.
“I didn’t want to drive three hours, and I just thought it’d be a lot easier,” Archer said.
Archer said she felt she learned everything she needed to know through information shared during her first online orientation section.
“They gave me a link on MyUI that would help me know more about anything that I wanted to. It was alphabetical and I could like search anything else that I need to know about,” Archer said.
Despite not being physically there, Archer said she feels her remote orientation experience has prepared her for Iowa City, the UI, and her academics.
“My adviser was really helpful. She helped me find classes that I knew I was gonna like. She gave me suggestions, and if they didn’t seem appealing to me, she didn’t take offense. She was just like, ‘OK , well, let’s look for other ones’ and tried to find things that matched my interests rather than just what she saw was popular among other people, “Archer said.
Archer said she’s eager to get to campus and experience it for herself.
“I’m so excited. I’m counting down the days,” she said. “I’m excited to learn to do things on my own. Campus seems like so much fun.”