By Kim Corriher and Mary Alice Casey
Thousands of incoming students will visit campus in the coming weeks for the Precollege orientation program, which begins a week from today and incorporates new ways of introducing first-year and transfer students to the Ohio University community.
Training sessions for students and staff begin Monday, and the first Precollege students of the summer arrive July 24. The one-and-a-half day orientation program continues Monday through Saturday of each week through Aug. 15.
"Precollege is designed to help students feel comfortable at Ohio University, make sure they are informed on topics such as financial aid, how to get involved, and academic policies and requirements," said Jenny Klein, who assumed the role of director of orientation programs in February. "They leave both with a better understanding of the university and a full schedule."
A streamlined approach to scheduling is among several improvements to the Precollege process this year.
When the university instituted an online catalog for fall quarter 2007 and discontinued the print version, Precollege organizers took advantage of the opportunity to institute other changes that give incoming students more information about and easier access to academic opportunities and course options.
"Without a printed catalog, there is a huge cascading effect on how we structure Precollege, how we educate students about the courses they can and need to take, and the information they receive," Klein said.
For this academic year, the Office of the University Registrar, backed by funds from the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, invested in additional software to improve how students search for, select and register for classes.
"This is the way that our incoming students do business," Klein said of the online process. "They now spend more time on the computer and the Internet than any of the classes before them, and that trend is going to continue."
The change will give students more and better service for several reasons. First, the online catalog enhances their search options. In addition, it's easier to determine which courses are available thanks to online systems developed by the Office of Information Technology and the registrar's office.
"We've made huge improvements in terms of the way current course offerings are listed, searched and accessed," University Registrar Debra Benton said. "The online applications are very much advanced from even last year, and that is something that will benefit the entire university community."
The new process will translate into more continuity and individualized attention for students as they receive assistance selecting classes, and it will help advisers who assist with that task.
"It used to be that you would work with an adviser on day one of Precollege, and then on day two, you would register for classes in a computer lab, often with assistance from someone completely different," Klein said. "With the new system in place, you will work with the same person throughout."
Most students will register for all of their courses in the classroom where they speak with an adviser, either using a laptop computer they have been encouraged to bring along or one of many desktop computers that will be available.
"They will learn the process the right way from the beginning and follow that same process in their future quarters at the university," Klein said.
Since students log on to the course catalog and course offerings page that first day using their OAK account, the ID process has been moved up in the Precollege schedule.
"Now, students will be welcomed to the university and get their picture taken first thing," Klein said. "Then they will register for orientation and pick up their ID. By the time they meet with an adviser, they will have wireless access through the Ohio University server."
More than the print catalog has been eliminated, too, and students surely won't miss this former Precollege mainstay: the mandatory math placement exam. Math placement now is determined via the ACT and/or SAT scores provided during each student's acceptance process. Students who disagree with their placement have the opportunity to improve their standing by taking a placement exam online on their own time.
Setting the stage for success
Such streamlining has led to more free time during Precollege, creating an opportunity to address important topics such as how to set yourself up for academic success. In one new session, Director of Learning Community Programs Wendy Merb-Brown will share advice on academics and tell students how to sign up for learning communities, which they can do the following day.
"We think it's very important that students begin thinking about how they can be successful in the long run right from the start," Klein said. "And that is where the decision to emphasize learning communities comes from."
More than 1,000 students in the incoming class already have expressed an interest in joining a learning community, a one-quarter experience in which a group of students take a common set of courses together or share a common experience around their academics. Students who are undecided on their major are required to belong to a learning community; others are encouraged to do so.
"The concept of a learning community brings students together who are interested in the same program and helps them to be more purposeful right off the bat about how to be successful," Merb-Brown said.
The university plans 145 learning communities with the capacity for about 2,500 first-year and transfer students this fall, she said. That's up from 115 learning communities serving more than 1,900 students last fall.
"It's our hope that by bringing the discussion of learning communities into the picture during Precollege, students will get that first jump off on a positive foot towards a successful academic career."
Looking to the future
Klein wants Precollege to continue to grow and evolve as students' needs change and opportunities for a richer introduction to college life present themselves. One change she hopes is on the horizon for next year is a new name.
"Precollege has always been Ohio University's Orientation program, but for individuals who don't have a background at Ohio University, the name 'Precollege' doesn't have a lot of resonance. We have to explain that it is orientation," Klein said. "We are looking for something that has a little bit more meaning for incoming freshmen, and we are very much open to suggestions."
To share ideas for a new name, e-mail Klein at firstname.lastname@example.org.