Virtual community building: With orientation programming online, students adjust plans, expectations

Orientation programs Imagine Day and Jump Start will be delivered virtually in September 2020.

With most courses in the fall semester to be delivered online and public health not permitting large gatherings, UBC has changed its approach to first-year orientation with virtual versions of Jump Start, Imagine UBC and Collegia.

Amandeep Breen, senior director of student engagement in the office of the VP Students said UBC wants to create an “enriching and inclusive” experience for new students and are working with the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training to make sure they’re meeting health and safety guidelines.

"Staff are working hard to plan orientation activities to include all the elements that are necessary for students to build relationships that will be critical to their academic success," she said, although no specific details have been provided yet.

Rethinking first-year recruitment

With no in-person Imagine Day boothing in the fall, AMS clubs are brainstorming innovative ways to involve new students.

Like many clubs, UBC Ski and Board will be attempting to create a sense of community and belonging among students, while following the province's social distancing rules and regulations throughout the first semester.

As far as we are concerned right now we can still do a lot of activities that we all like doing. For example, in the summer everyone is cliff jumping and in the winter everyone is skiing and snowboarding, there are people mountain biking and all that,” said UBC Ski and Board President Sam Friesan.

“So we are thinking in the first term that we would host smaller group events like smaller groups of people going skiing, smaller groups of people going back-country skiing and snowboarding.”

Other clubs without the ability to meet as easily in person are experimenting with virtual platforms.

Black Vinyl Project President Ethan Fernandes said in an interview with The Ubyssey that the club will be using their “online presence to create community by continuing open-mic lives, workshops and virtual dance parties.”

Similarly, UBC Dance Horizons will also be implementing virtual programming for all students until January 2021.

VP External Timothy Park said in an interview with The Ubyssey that they will be “giving out [free] dance classes for everyone to experience the dance culture.”

Building community, virtually

Student involvement in Jump Start has been correlated with improved student retention, higher GPAs and an improved sense of belonging at UBC. The announcement of a virtual version has disappointed students, but many remain hopeful.

Grant Bender, an incoming arts student, told The Ubyssey that although he is disappointed by the decision to make orientation a virtual experience, he “can’t wait” to be a part of UBC’s solution believes that the university will ensure that he will still be able to “meet people from different places.”

Incoming first-year student Ryan Hocking told The Ubyssey that despite the circumstances, he is “100 per cent still excited about coming to UBC in September.”

“Personally, I was most looking forward to moving across the country, exploring a new city and creating new friendships and experiences … the first two may not be possible [but], I believe that with the right resources the last two can still be accomplished,” he said.