Orientation committee to consider potential changes

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A committee to review Brown’s Orientation programming will be formed this fall and could begin implementing changes as early as next year.

Though still in its early stages, the Orientation review committee will be a joint effort involving the offices of the dean of the College and the dean for student life and may include faculty, students and deans involved in first-year affairs.

“We’re going to be looking to make changes that are very real, not just tinkering here and there,” said Interim Assistant Dean of the College Sheilah Coleman, who coordinates Orientation in conjunction with Associate Dean of Student Life Kisa Takesue.

“I don’t think it’s broken, but there’s always room to be more inventive, more dynamic,” Coleman added.

Any changes resulting from the committee’s work would likely be implemented some time in the next few years, Coleman said.

A similar committee was planned for last year but was sidetracked in part because of turnover in the Office of the Dean of the College and the Office of Student Life, both of which are under new leadership this year, Coleman said.

Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron sees room for improvement in a few areas. “I think there’s general consensus that the dissemination of certain kinds of information – for example, about the academic code and alcohol policy – could be handled more effectively,” Bergeron wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. “I would also like the orientation to include some kind of seminar component: I’m thinking of something that is more intellectual than social – where the point would be not just thinking and discussing, but also reading and writing.”

Another area the committee may examine is the length of Orientation. Brown’s six-day program is longer than orientation programs at other schools. “It could be beneficial to make the Orientation schedule not quite as long as it is,” Coleman said.

Some first-years noted the length of Orientation as a point of concern. “At other schools it’s a couple days,” said Chris Huynh ’10. “Ours was really long.”

Other first-years interviewed by The Herald had generally positive impressions of Orientation this year. One concern was the large class meetings, which covered topics ranging from Brown’s alcohol policies to its historic involvement in the slave trade.

Most noted that though the meetings are mandatory, many students skipped them. Others complained that the meetings were not interesting.

“The first two bored people to death, so people ended up skipping the third and fourth,” said Ben Colburn ’10.

Sharon Choi ’10 said she thinks that “a lot of people did not go” to all four of the large class meetings. “We could have done a bit more with the units,” she said.

“The talks were all right,” said Colin Brett ’10. “To be honest, I didn’t really go to some of them.”

Changes made to Orientation in a typical year are minor and result either from a feedback survey administered to first-years or from the experience of students and administrators involved in the program, said Joey Borson ’07, student co-chair of the Orientation Welcoming Committee and a Herald opinions columnnist. Common changes might include the expansion of a particularly popular event or the elimination of a less successful one, he said.

Borson said he views the review committee as an opportunity to look at longer-term goals and “see if the current structure fits into those goals.”

Overall, he thinks “Brown does a good job of creating and organizing events that bring the whole freshman class together … and also facilitating the sort of small group interactions,” Borson said.

One part of the committee’s work will likely be to compare Brown’s Orientation program to those of peer institutions, an issue on which Coleman said some progress was made last year.

Incoming freshmen at Dartmouth College have assigned summer reading, and off-campus programs such as hiking trips are offered before orientation programs at Dartmouth and Harvard, Yale, and Columbia universities.

Coleman said she hopes the committee will examine how well Brown’s message “carries from Orientation into people’s first-year experience,” adding that “we’d like Orientation to reflect Brown more … since Brown is so unique.”

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