UC Santa Cruz honored for innovative online Orientation Course

Orientation Leaders are UC Santa Cruz students that are highly trained to assist incoming frosh and transfer students  in their exciting transition to becoming a UCSC Banana Slug.

UC Santa Cruz’s online summer Orientation Course has been recognized for its innovative and inclusive approach to preparing entering students. The Orientation Course was awarded the 2023 Regional II Innovative Program Award from the Association for Orientation, Transition and Retention in Higher Education, known as NODA. The award recognizes a program or unique approach to a challenging situation or a specific campus need. 

UC Santa Cruz is one of the first universities in the country to require all incoming first-year and transfer students to take a unit-bearing orientation course approved by the Academic Senate. 

“UC Santa Cruz is leading the University of California and the nation in ensuring access, consistency, and success through innovation in its orientation program,” said Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education and Global Engagement Richard Hughey. “The online Slug Orientation is a transformative course experience for our students.”

Collaborators included the Council of Provosts, Campus Orientation, Faculty Instructional Technology Center, Online Education, Office of Campus Advising Coordination, Services for Transfer and Re-entry Students, Undergraduate Admissions, Financial Aid and Scholarships, The Division of Student Affairs and Success, Office of the Registrar, Summer Session, Colleges, Housing, and Educational Services, Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Student Health Center, Business and Administrative Services, academic programs and departments across campus, academic and institutional support units across campus, and the Academic Senate.

The required one-unit Orientation Course accessed through Canvas has ten instructor-led courses for first-year students and four instructor-led courses for transfer students. Each college adapts the course to their theme and puts together five assignments. These courses and the general orientation content make up the summer program. During three asynchronous modules students learn how to navigate the campus and its processes. Part I provides information on the structure of the university, reminders of critical admissions deadlines, and helps students explore their academic goals, Part 2 focuses on advising and fall class enrollment preparation, and Part 3 provides campus, academic and social resources, move-in preparation and Fall Welcome Week information. Students must complete Parts 1 and 2 to receive a date to enroll in fall quarter classes. All of the orientation content is available to students throughout their first year.

The credit-bearing orientation builds on the 2019 replacement of a series of 1-day summer orientation events to a continuing summer connection with students as they plan their academic journey. Close collaboration among the college provosts and orientation, Director of Orientation Rosa Plaza, Assistant Director of Online Education Aaron Zachmeier,  and past Kresge Provost Ben Leeds Carson, in particular, made possible this integrated program that helps all new students begin their UC Santa Cruz academic journey a little sooner.

“We have created something that’s very informative and functional which gives new students the opportunity to learn the information at their own pace,” Plaza said. “Throughout the summer, we are available to newly admitted students to provide guidance in completing the course and learning about the campus resources and expectations, and to help them make connections.” 

The program provides a personal touch through orientation leaders who are current students. From June to late September, 30 to 40 leaders, along with peer navigators in the residential colleges, are available to students and their family members through daily drop-in hours via chat, email, phone and Zoom. During the one-on-one meetings, they answer questions, help students understand deadlines, meet admissions requirements, and guide them through the class enrollment process. 

The incoming students also meet with academic advisors and have opportunities to meet with faculty and engage in virtual social gatherings called Slug Games, where they meet other new students and build connections and community. 

In a follow-up survey, students said the online course was more engaging and helped them develop a sense of belonging in their college and to UCSC. They also said having all the content and information in one location and more time to move through the modules made it easier to navigate and less intimidating. 

In summer 2023, students will also have options of a new on-campus orientation Slug Connection program, as well as the 5-week, 7-unit Summer Edge programs with on-campus residential and online alternatives.