A new semester means a new wave of students transitioning from online back to campus, and the group at the heart of that change are the incoming freshmen.
This semester, an unprecedented number of freshmen chose to move in at this later time due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leading to altered programs to accommodate them.
“Spring orientation has primarily been for transfer, veteran, and returning adult students who were joining Gonzaga for the first time,” said Justin Gambone, program coordinator for First Year Experience programs. “We typically did not have many first-time 'freshman' students join GU in the spring, we had some, but the number was never large enough to have two separate programs.”
According to Gambone, about 150 first-year students arrived on campus this semester, with 60 of these students participating in spring orientation. Many of these students who stayed home during the first semester had attended fall orientation virtually, but the university still wanted to give the option to attend an in-person orientation.
“During the fall semester, myself and Matt Lamsma, the dean of student engagement, met with a couple of first-year students who were studying remotely to learn what they wanted to get out of spring orientation," Gambone said. "During this discussion we learned that a lot of those students wanted more social interactions and just to be able to be in person with other students and make connections.”
The freshmen who attended spring orientation regarded the program as helpful in multiple ways.
“I did attend virtual orientation back in fall, but getting to attend an in-person orientation this spring especially helped. It was nice to get more acquainted with campus and the people here, it felt very welcoming,” said Kainoa Evans, one of the freshmen who studied remotely during the fall semester.
Her sentiment was shared by a lot of freshmen new to campus, many with the added pressure to make friends in different circumstances.
“I was worried that making friends could be difficult since everyone had already made friends, but getting to meet people in a similar situation as me really helped,” said Cella Allen, another freshman who initially stayed home. “The tour and information they gave us was also really helpful.”
These freshmen experiences seem to align with the goals of those who put together this spring’s orientation. “During spring orientation, these students heard from university leadership, listened to a student panel of current Zags about being on campus during the pandemic, received a campus tour and had the opportunity to win prizes through Gonzaga trivia,” Gambone said.
Seeing as most of these first-year students had studied remotely the previous semester, they shared similar thoughts about finally coming to GU this semester.
“I decided to move in this semester because I finally wanted to meet everyone," Evans said. "I had concerns around how colleges were able to manage their number of cases, however, GU seemed to be doing a good job of handling the pandemic and seemed very conscious of COVID-19."
Coming to campus made him excited to finally meet his roommate and all the people he interacted with virtually during his classes last semester. He was, however, still nervous about the transition.
“I did not feel confident leaving home the first semester due to the outbreak, however, I felt I had spent too much time at home at this point, and I would regret not moving in at all during my first year of college. I felt I needed to take a leap of faith and push myself by moving in this semester,” Allen said. “When I made the decision to move in, I was worried that balancing my classes and my social life would be hard.”
However, it seems that despite these students’ concerns, GU has effectively welcomed these first year students.
“Moving in has exceeded my expectations," Allen said. "I was nervous that it would be hard to acclimate to being a student on campus after being home, but it was a pretty smooth transition. Everyone has been really nice and helpful, and when I realized people were still willing to be friends with me despite arriving late, that was a relief."
Evans said he had a good first week despite feeling like a new student. The support was one thing that made the transition smoother, and others agree.
“There are many different support resources and offices across campus to assist them in their transition,” Gambone said. “Coming in later can definitely impact the first year experience, but our students are resilient enough to be able to push through those challenges and obstacles and to make their time on campus at Gonzaga the best experience for them.”