Online Orientation welcomes new UNIs

NCSSM Online welcomed its Class of 2022 with a two-day orientation on July 30-31. Held fully remotely for the first time in the program’s history, the event featured a welcome by Chancellor Todd Roberts, introductions to key members of the Online team from Academic Programs and Student Life, and a keynote speech by NCSSM Online alumnus Ryan Baskerville ’20.

More than 100 incoming Online juniors attended the event. Students participated in a variety of activities, including a virtual scavenger hunt (held at breakneck pace), discussion and information sessions, afternoon meet-and-greets, evening social events, and, on Friday morning, an intensive small-group reportage project called “STEM Good News.” Students published the results of their investigations by posting video podcasts to a digital “wall” for viewing by all participants. The event ended with an announcement of the results of the scavenger hunt and a reminder of important dates in the coming semester.

Break-out discussion and information sessions ranged widely and included an introduction to NCSSM’s Online Student Ambassador Program with Associate Director of Admissions Rob Andrews and Online Ambassadors, a session with Director of Research and Mentorship Sarah Shoemaker on opportunities to become a “Thinker, Maker, Doer,” and a Mindfulness session led by Dean of Counseling Lori Newnam. Student Body President Megan Mou ’21 joined Student Director of Online/Residential Communication Caroline Maxon ’21 to lead a discussion about how to build one school community through clubs, collaborations, and social events involving both residential and online students. Instructor of Humanities Jason Lineberger led students through a virtual escape room called “Back to the Future”; Chris Thomas, Research Coordinator for Distance Education, helped students unleash “the adult inside you” in a session called “Don’t Act your Age.” And Justin Plummer, Assistant Director of Student Services and Equity Programming, offered a session on “Building an Inclusive Community at NCSSM.”

Dean of Mathematics Taylor Gibson and Dean of Humanities Elizabeth Moose served as event coordinators. Garrett Love, Chair of Engineering and Computer Science, served as lead instructor and planned the Virtual Scavenger Hunt and “STEM Good News” project. Online Resource Coordinators (ORCs) John (J.J.) Watts, Sue Anne Lewis, and Mat Trn ’15 coordinated the “Birds of a Feather” sessions and evening social activities.

During their two days of virtual togetherness, students used a variety of electronic tools to seek and find information, collaborate, and share conversations as well as their work. These tools included Canvas, Discord, Padlet, and Zoom, of course. Students will use these technologies in their upcoming online classes and online extracurricular activities.

Discord was the virtual platform for the getting-to-know-you “Birds of a Feather” sessions and Thursday evening social activities, which included “skribbl,” “Minecraft,” “Covidopoly,” and “Smash.”

In a survey conducted right after the program, more than 90 students gave an overall “thumbs-up” to the event and offered helpful feedback on how to improve future Orientations. 

Many students suggested more time be allotted for the virtual scavenger hunt. “I understand that its being rushed and stressful is purposeful, but I think a little more time would have been useful,” said William Becker of Greenville. Campbell Depken of Concord, however, found the ticking clock energizing: “The scavenger hunt was a lot of fun because of the time crunch, competitive aspects.” He added, “Another online competition, like an escape room, would be a lot of fun as well!” Eleanor Whitaker of Southern Pines agreed: “Having a whole day of online games and competitions would be AWESOME.” 

The “Birds of a Feather” sessions and evening social events were popular, as students gathered in virtual chat sessions to talk about shared interests and to play virtual games. Darby Burgett of Waxhaw said, “I really enjoyed meeting new people and I definitely have tons of new online friends now!” 

Many students asked for smaller meeting groups and even more social activities so that they could have more time to get to know each other. Tulsi Patel of Matthews said, “[Orientation] was really fun and engaging, and even more ways of getting to know students would have been really cool!” Others encouraged future Orientations to include “Meet your Instructors” sessions. As Lawrence Chung of Huntersville put it: “This experience helped me connect with other students pretty well! One thing that I would’ve liked even more would be to meet other students in our respective classes.” 

Despite everyone’s wish that students, faculty, and staff could have gathered safely in person, students met the challenge of the virtual Orientation with energy and flexibility. As Parkman Cook of Winston-Salem said, “The only thing more I could have asked for was that Orientation had been in person, but with COVID-19, I get it.”

“It was sad we couldn’t all be there in person,” said Grace Ann Wooten of Whiteville, “but this was the next best thing.” Saahiti Chintala of Mooresville went even further: “Overall, I really enjoyed this orientation and didn’t feel the absence of not meeting everyone physically. Thank you for organizing this!”

Chandler Beals of State Road added, “I really loved this orientation and thought that you all did so well especially under the circumstances. I feel like I have made a lot of friendships through this and am very excited to get this school year started. Kudos, Online Team!”

“You all did a great job,” said Ava Cox of Lumberton. “I really enjoyed orientation, and I’m so glad that I learned about all that NCSSM offers. I can’t wait to start junior year and participate in all of the opportunities!”