Making transitions: Student orientation draws more than 12,000 to main campus

June 12, 2017

Pic of OrientationBy Jackie Todd, Office of University Relations

The journey through life is all about transitions. The better the transition, the better the experience. For the next nine weeks, Clemson will help with the transitions of more than 5,000 undergraduate students, 750 graduate students and their families  –  about 12,500 people – who are visiting Clemson’s main campus for the university’s annual new, transfer and graduate student orientations.

Rebecca Atkinson, Clemson’s director of orientation, said that her department, Student Transitions and Family Programs, is ready. In fact, her team has been preparing for this time for the past 18 months.

“Orientation planning begins about a year and a half in advance because we start with the most important thing…the dates,” she explained. “We have to check in with so many entities to make sure that the dates work out. Facilities, admissions, housing, dining, the university’s Colleges and some of our major venues like the Brooks Center.”

Pic of Orientation2Atkinson said that timing is a tricky consideration. Events scheduled too early in June will conflict with high school students, who are wrapping up their school year. Events scheduled in August will interfere with Clemson summer wrap up and fall back-to-school events.

Timing orientation during the calendar year has to be just right. There’s the Fourth of July holiday, which shortens the window of opportunity. Other considerations include space and food…and, oddly enough, construction schedules. Dining halls need to be ready. Housing options must be available. And walkways need to be walkable.

“This summer, there’s a lot of pedestrian construction on campus so that’s going to impact how we’re walking people around, versus other summers when campus construction has affected more streets and buildings,” said Atkinson. “So you’re navigating that exterior circle, instead of that interior circle and that’s impacting us.”

Once school schedules and dates are considered, organizers must secure all the large on-campus venues. The 997-seat Brooks Center, for example, has the largest indoor seating capacity on the main campus and, thus, is used to host orientation. This year, in collaboration with University Housing and Dining, the orientation team is able to use two residence halls to house new students overnight making it more efficient for custodial and summer programs staff.

Pic of Orientation3It’s a lot of coordination, listening to needs, creating solutions, listening to more needs and juggling resources to meet the growing population of freshmen. The undergraduate student orientation team expects to see 3,650 freshmen, 1,500 transfer students – and their families.

While students are transitioning to the university, the orientation itself is transitioning. In fact, year after year, no two orientations are the same.

“We are always changing,” said Atkinson. “We don’t stay flat and static. There is not one summer when we have done orientation the exact same way. We’ve either introduced new technology or we’ve introduced a new concept or message, a new order of something, or changed a program. For the most part, though, the campus probably doesn’t feel a lot of those changes.

Pic of Orientation4Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it right. Annual assessment scores hover at 98 percent satisfaction. But even with the high numbers, Atkinson and the orientation team are still looking at ways to do more and do better. And with well over 300 employees in departments across campus, plus the College personnel and the student orientation ambassadors, it takes a collaborative effort – some say a village – to succeed.

“This is not about us,” said Atkinson. “We are just the facilitators of this process and this transition. It’s the institution’s experience. Clemson owns this and wants this for students to be successful.”

New and transfer student orientation on Clemson’s main campus runs through July 21.

Graduate student orientation will be held August 21.