As a new student at a new school, it can be an overwhelming transition. From not knowing where key spots are located, as well as not knowing anyone on campus – this is where peer leaders play a crucial role in welcoming incoming students. In the midst of COVID-19, it can be even more challenging for the Class of 2024 to get acquainted with the community. How do you build an environment where students feel a connection to their new university?
When planning a virtual orientation, orientation peer leaders can leverage multiple efforts online to help engage, communicate, and connect with new students. By utilizing an orientation platform and applying these 8 features, peer leaders can elevate communication with incoming students to foster connection and help them feel a part of the community.
1. Create Interactions in Group Messages
As a peer leader, it’s essential to develop opportunities for new students to network with other students. With the orientation platform, you can group message channels to invite students to make introductions, ask you and the group questions, and chat with one another. By taking the initiative and building these groups, you give them a space to have conversations and start meeting other students they can relate to. As a peer leader, you can jumpstart the conversations by hosting an icebreaker, invite students to introduce themselves, or even dropping in a poll to have them quickly and effectively participate in an activity.
2. Encourage Engagements with Polls
Speaking of polls, they’re an easy way to get students to start using and understanding the platform. Whether you want to leverage it to ask what movie they’d be interested in watching (you can even host a Netflix Party and play the option with the most votes since you know majority of the students voted for it), you can also inquire what they’re most excited about the new year, or reflect a poll based off what’s happening on campus, current events, or in correlation of the season/holiday at the moment.
3. Foster Friendships Over Shared Interests
Introduce spaces where students can join the dialogue and meet one another based off of academic similarities such as their major or graduation year. These similarities can also range over shared hobbies and other interests including sports fans, musicians, movie goers, and so much more. You can create virtual meetups, whether that’s a book club or video game club, by providing several options, you give students multiple outlets to find their potential group of friends and give them a source to meet fellow classmates on their own time.
4. Host Virtual Activities and Giveaways
Organize fun activities as a way to encourage students to play and participate. Prepare virtual activities such as scavenger hunts, photo/video contests, riddle posts, and games for incoming students to actively enjoy. In these activities you can even share interesting facts about the university, from longtime school traditions or standout facts about popular alumni. In terms of giveaways, whether it’s a gift card or apparel from the bookstore, they offer an incentive for students to play along. You can also plan to do spontaneous activities that happen sporadically, or spread them out into a series that happen weekly or monthly.
5. Include Insight with Maps, Guides, and Checklists
As mentioned above, one of the daunting factors for starting at a new school is the uncertainty. From locations on campus, to student resources, these take time to learn and memorize. To help students, you can provide maps of the main go-to spots on campus. With this online map, give them consistent access to view. By providing a directory guide, you can list out important student resources that they can refer to throughout the school year and utilize when they need it. With checklists, help students recall what they need to do in regard to important university tasks and deadlines. Whether that’s a pre-orientation checklist or a reminder of tasks they must fulfill before residence move-in, a checklist will be helpful to nudge them to complete each required step.
6. Share and Publish Upcoming Events and Socials
What better way to interact with the broader campus community than events? With an orientation platform, peer leaders can create/publish their own events, or aggregate school-wide student events that’ll interest newcomers to get to know the school. Pull all of these can’t miss events into one organized space, where they can mark interested in the ones that stand out to them and will not forget to attend. If it’s an online event, they can easily click into Zoom or the provided link and attend an event happening right then and there.
7. Offer Open Communication with DMs
Some students prefer to inquire questions privately, with direct message (DM) capabilities, peer leaders provide an open door policy where they can connect with you when they’d like to ask a question or need assistance. This gives them the ability to ask you questions when they need the help, and gives you the ability to answer them when you get the chance to. Rather than being constrained to a particular set of hours, it’s a win-win for both incoming students and peer leaders to connect.
8. Group Features in One Easy to Find Platform
When all of these features are combined into one place, it’s easy for peer leaders to organize and track their communication efforts and for incoming students to also engage and participate in the various ways you’ve provided engagement. Whether students prefer voting in polls, or delving into extensive conversations via group messages, they can locate the best communication form for them and feel connected to their new community.