Virtual Orientation: Building a Sense of Community
Orientation Week, named “O Week” by students and staff, officially started this year on September 3. The events held during orientation introduce first-year students to the College who, in the 2021-22 academic year, number 870. Of course, nobody could have predicted the need for a second year of a virtual O Week; however many of the lessons learned from last year’s orientation have helped inform and guide this year’s programming. Due to COVID-19 students have become most adept at using various digital platforms to both learn and socialize. Vic has worked hard to use technology to create the perfect mix of an O Week that is at once both educational and enjoyable.
“Students still want community,” says Heidi Pepper Coles, associate dean, student success. “They are just as engaged on virtual platforms as they are in real life. They are eager to connect with each other even in the virtual space.”
Registration numbers are high this year for Vic’s O Week and the 14 days of programming offer something for everyone. With over 90 programs on offer, Vic aims to fill in the gaps not only for those living on campus, but also for commuter students and recently arrived international students. In fact, in addition to O Week, commuter and international students can also access special O Week programming geared just to them. For instance, International Orientation deals with many practical issues of being new to Canada—how to open a bank account, where to buy a SIM card, how to find a good winter coat. Students who have not yet entered Canada can join these sessions from afar and watch them either live or later, since many of the programs are recorded and put into Quercus, U of T’s online hub for students.
New this year, and something that evolved in response to COVID-19, is programming for second-year students. Run by commuter dons, resources and opportunities available on campus are shared with returning students. There are also refreshers such as virtual tours of the campus. Students are also encouraged to join Vic Ready, a program that helps students prepare for life after Vic.
All students were also invited to a conference on mental health called Minding Our Minds. The conference, which took place on September 8, put a real focus on students and their return to campus. Students heard from mental health experts from Vic and the broader community.
“The main goal of Orientation Week is to let every student know that there is a place for them at Vic,” says Pepper Coles. “There is something for everyone and the programming helps generate a sense of community and belonging. We really want our students to flourish and to be excited about the next four years of their lives.”