Montana State University

Changes to MSU new student orientation offer more services to incoming students, parents

August 23, 2016 -- Denise Hoepfner, MSU News Service

Montana State University Office of Admissions leads a campus tour in August, 2016. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

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BOZEMAN -- Changes made to Montana State University’s new student orientation have already given incoming Bobcats a reason to cheer.

An orientation committee spent the past year revisiting the orientation process, collaborating with departments and services across campus and gathering feedback on ways to better meet the needs of MSU’s incoming class, said Korrin Fagenstrom, director of orientation and assistant director of Admissions New Student Programs.

“We wanted to know what was working and what needed to be improved,” Fagenstrom said. “We hosted listening sessions and talked to Residence Life senior staff, Academic Advising, assistant deans and the enrollment committee.”

Highlights of the changes include the addition of faculty and staff advisers provided by the colleges and more advising time built into the schedule, including academic advisers on hand at check-in to help students determine what placement tests they should take and evening lab hours, Fagenstrom said.

“In the past, they may have had 45 minutes to advise a student and this year they have up to three hours,” she said.

After gathering the feedback, the orientation committee determined the focus of orientation should be getting students and their parents acquainted with campus and taking care of their hierarchy of needs, Fagenstrom said.

This hierarchy, she said, meant putting housing -- the No. 1 concern of students and their parents -- at the top of the list.

“It’s hard to focus on academics if they don’t know where they are living,” Fagenstrom said. “And parents, too, want to make sure their child has a place to live and that they’re taken care of and that they’re going to graduate.”

To address this immediate concern, students meet with Residence Life on the first day of orientation to find out where they’re going to live, as well as take a campus tour, Fagenstrom said.

Subsequent needs addressed during the remaining day-and-a-half of orientation include providing designated training and earlier access to online scheduling and degree-planning tools, familiarizing students with MSU’s resources and new informational sessions for students and their parents.

“They also find out what MSU looks like in terms of degree completion and what they need to do to graduate,” Fagenstrom said.

The changes were tested and tweaked during the three summer orientation sessions, with positive results, Fagenstrom said. The final test will happen during the fall orientation session, scheduled for Aug. 24-26.

“Even though it was new and it took some getting used to, everyone seems to like it,” Fagenstrom said. “Academic Advising felt they had more time with students and were better able to advise -- not only to get students in classes, but to have conversations with them about their goals.”

The result of that extra time, she said, was that students felt more confident about their class choices and their ability to use the registration system.

“This has been a campus-wide collaboration about why we do certain things and how we can better help each other and, ultimately, the students and their parents,” Fagenstrom said. “It’s been great to be a part of the project.”

Other changes to orientation include:

  • Scheduling math and writing placement testing to occur right after student check-in to allow time for test results to be posted so advisers will have the results before meeting with the students the next day.
  • Redefining the orientation leader role to be a peer encourager rather than an adviser.
  • Having the first session the students attend be a presentation by Dean of Students Matthew Caires, to set the stage for the upcoming year.
  • Adding presentations led by the registrar’s office to teach students (and their parents in a separate session) how to use the CatCourse scheduler, Degreeworks and MyInfo.
  • Integrating DegreeWorks into the CatCourse scheduler so advisers can help students develop their graduation plan.
  • Adding a mandatory interactive financial aid workshop called “The Price is Right,” to teach students the basics of financial aid planning, loans and credit in a fun, improvisational style.
  • Revising a play called “Choices” to reflect contemporary social and health-related scenarios students might encounter and make them aware of MSU’s resources and having counseling staff on hand for students who need to talk confidentially.
  • Students will hear from staff at the Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success about the transition from high school to college, academic support and resources, careers, and the job market.

Members of the orientation committee were: Fagenstrom; Ronda Russell, director of Admissions; Diane Donnelly, director of University Studies and the Academic Advising Center; Emily Edwards, academic adviser and advising coordinator of the Academic Advising Center; Tony Campeau, Registrar; Kandi Gresswell, associate registrar; Jeff Bondy, director of Residence Life; Isaac Hunter, coordinator of staff training and selection for Residence Life; and Carina Beck, director of Career Services and the Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success.

Contact: Korrin Fagenstrom, kengel@montana.edu or (406) 994-2453

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