As one of the thousands of freshmen who came to CSUN last fall, Nhan Mai, an aspiring broadcast journalist, reflected on her student orientation experience and thought that there must be a better way to get incoming students ready for college life.
“The new students that are coming in should have been prepared and should have known already that college is different,” Mai said. “You’re not going to be babied here. You’re on your own, independent and have the responsibility to be going to class, doing your work and registering for your courses.”
Thomas Piernik, director of Student Development and International Programs, and William Watkins, associate vice president of Student Affairs, proposed to create a “New Student Convocation” as an improved way to introduce students to life at CSUN.
Estimated to begin for the Fall 2007, incoming-freshmen class, a new student convocation should provide students the motivation to earning a degree, Piernik said.
“It is meant to be an (inspiration), sort of ‘why am I here’, why am I pursuing a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “We’re hoping to motivate students to ask themselves those questions and answer them.”
According to a Power Point convocation presentation created by Piernik and Watkins in December 2005, about 18 campuses from the CSU and UC systems have a New Student Convocation implemented on their campuses. The targets of the convocations include freshmen, transfer students and their families.
Piernik said the convocation ceremony would gather the whole incoming freshmen class for a shorter but more significant event. Currently, orientation brings about 500 students on different days from each of the eight colleges to an all-day event on campus .
Piernik also said most convocation ceremonies have a distinguished speaker who is nationally recognized, such as an author. After the approximately one-hour-long convocation where distinguished speakers give incoming students advice, there is usually a post program or reception, such as a barbecue or concert, he said.
Watkins said convocation is to ensure students will make them more prepared to face the real world.
“You will probably get a chance to meet more faculty in an event like this than New Student Orientation,” he said. “My suspicion when some freshmen arrive here, is they are still a little bit fuzzy about going to college, (regarding) what they are going to major in or do. It’s an effort to try to assist students in considering some of these choices.”
One of the goals for the convocation is to make sure freshmen do not drop out after their first year.
“Certainly, retention is a concern for our campus and yes we want the students to be inspired to stay here,” Piernik said. “It’s surprising to see how many students don’t have sufficient motivation to get through even their first semester.”
When told of the plan, Mai used her experience from her orientation and outlined some of the weaknesses that convocation should avoid.
“I felt the way the orientation was held, yes it was very thorough, but everyone was very motherly,” she said. “During the orientation in the auditorium, (students) were being more rowdy. (Students) weren’t being very attentive, because if you don’t expect them to be mature adults then they’re going to be like that because there is no pressure or expectation.”
Piernik said he wants feedback from students in creating such a convocation.
“Student voices in this is really important,” Piernik said. “I’m really happy to get some students together to talk about what they like to see happen as a part of the NSC. So we’re tapping on students to plan, and really from a student’s perspective, share with us what would be meaningful.”
In planning for convocation, Piernik said he hopes the traditions learned at the event will be meaningful for students through college and graduation.
“We want to introduce students to the rituals of the university,” Piernik said. “For instance, a lot of times, the students never even saw the mace of the university until commencement. Most students don’t even know why their tassels are a certain color.”
Overall, Piernik and Watkins hope to provide a sense of unity with the convocation.
“We feel this event could introduce (students) to the academic structure that they are coming into, so that they see one university, eight colleges, 56 majors and lots of choices here.”