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In-person STAR orientation helps build a community of Pointers

Many students are just completing their high school graduation celebrations when they attend their first orientation session for college. That can be a bit overwhelming.

Molly Hulke, an Appleton student who plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point this fall to major in communication sciences and disorders, was a bit of nervous when she first arrived at UW-Stevens Point for her Student Transition, Advising and Registration (STAR) session in mid-June.  

She joined the more than 1,600 incoming Pointers who are taking part in the orientation sessions, held twice daily June 14-July 2, to learn more about their future home away from home.

"I was scared, but being here was so helpful," said Hulke. She enjoyed meeting other students in small groups and learning about student resources, such as options for tutoring and a phone app for finding a study buddy. "I'm excited to come back in the fall to meet more people."

Last year STAR was entirely online because of the pandemic. According to Rachel Siebers, assistant director of recruitment and campus events for the Office of Admissions and Recruitment, it was important to support future Pointers by having them back on campus.

"This is an opportunity to show students and their guests how we can aid in their transition to college. This starts by coming to campus, educating, eating in our dining center, meeting with support services and even offering vaccines during the resource fair," said Siebers. "We want to build a community of Pointers. In-person STAR orientation allows students to foster positive relationships with our students, faculty and staff, and become part of the Pointer family."

The in-person STAR sessions at the Noel Fine Arts Center include time with peer mentors and workshops with information on student financial, education and extracurricular resources, general education requirements, move-in and Welcome Week. The students also decorate picnic tables with Pointer art, attend a resource fair and have a meal in the DeBot Dining Center with their families.

"Students are getting acquainted with campus on a personal level," said Michaela Knepfel, visit coordinator for the Office of Admissions and Recruitment. "Being able to highlight the great facility and awesome food in DeBot is a big part of that. It alleviates parents' concerns about what their students will eat on campus."

Parents attend separate workshops to learn about student resources as well as how to help transition their student to college life. They write a letter to their student that will be delivered during the fifth week of classes, as the first grades start coming in.

Families also have the option of a personalized campus tour.

"What I love about STAR this year is that our students already have their housing assignments and their course schedule," Knepfel said. "They can visit their hall and see where they will have classes while on a campus tour."

One component of STAR is online. Prior to their campus visit, students meet with academic advisers via Zoom for one-hour one-on-one sessions in which students choose their fall semester courses, discuss their academic plans and ask any questions they may have. This offers a personal and less stressful environment for students, said Stacey Lilla, an academic adviser.

"We have found the Zoom meetings more productive," she said. "It feels less rushed and gives both students and parents time to ask questions to help meet their individual needs."

Noah Tomaszewski of Sturgeon Bay, a future forestry major, attended STAR with his parents Heidi and Daniel, both UWSP alumni. Although he has come to campus with his family many times before, he felt that STAR gave him a more in-depth look at campus and what will be available to him as a student.

"I had questions answered that I didn't know I had," he said. "I feel a lot more prepared after today." He and his and his future roommate chose the same orientation day so that they could meet in person and talk about plans for their room.

By the end of her STAR session, Hulke said she felt a lot less nervous about college. "Now I'm ready, it feels more normal to me."

Her mom, Jodi, said it made a big difference that they could take part in the in-person orientation. Her dad, Ben, agreed.

"We saw a twinkle in her eyes today when she said, 'I'm going to love it here.'"

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