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Orientation events pivot to virtual offerings for 2020

As with so many other aspects of student and campus life this year, New Student Orientation for the incoming members of the Class of 2024 and transfer students will look very different from past years.

But the robust offering of virtual programs – more than 200 of them, developed by Cornell’s student-led Orientation Steering Committee, along with college and university partners – include new features and countless opportunities for Cornellians to interact, learn and build online communities.

A separate Family Orientation site includes its own offerings and schedule.

“This year we expect to welcome about 3,300 [first-year] and 700 transfer students,” said Estefania Perez ’21, Orientation Steering Committee co-chair. Most Orientation offerings will run from Aug. 26 to Sept. 2, though many online programs will be made available for four weeks to let students fully explore the online opportunities in manageable doses and continue to meet other new students, she said.

The move-in process and Orientation programming were separated this year in part for safety reasons related to the pandemic, but also because many new students will be starting their Cornell educations online in their hometowns, away from campus, and still need to participate in Orientation, said Marisa LaFalce, assistant director for new student programs. The many asynchronous events and programs are meant to accommodate students near and far and in varying time zones, as well as those in quarantine, awaiting test results or traveling.

“The programming we are offering this year is the first of its kind, and we are aware that this is not a replacement for a traditional in-person experience,” said Josh Mann ’21, Orientation Steering Committee co-chair. “But we did what we could to allow students to meet and interact with their peers and student leaders, and to transition to campus life as smoothly as possible.”

Mann said the dozens of events range “from traditional programming, like our Orientation Leader meetings and class photo – yes, it will be virtual – to new programs, like our kickoff event, ‘One Cornell,’ and other events featuring celebrity guests.”

In putting together the virtual Orientation environment, LaFalce said special attention was paid to having fewer large-scale events and more small group interactions, like the new “speed friending” events. For families, a six-part series was created by New Student Programs that features students and staff from across the university on topics such as Cornell history; health and safety; the residential experience; developing community; being a Cornell parent; and student support.

“We know that things are very different this year, but we hope that both students and families still discover joy and fun during this special life transition,” LaFalce said.

“Throughout the summer, and as this virtual realm evolved, we collaborated with Alumni Affairs and Campus Activities,” Perez said, noting that the online welcoming and community-building efforts by the admissions office early this year for newly admitted students “certainly created a precedent for what we could achieve for Orientation.”

Other items of note for Orientation this year include:

  • President Martha E. Pollack’s New Student Convocation Address will be delivered via on-demand video;
  • Play the popular game Cornell Minecraft in a Cornell-bricky world;
  • Small group Orientation Leader (OL) meetings will happen on Zoom instead of on campus, and OLs will continue to have compelling ice-breakers and other fun activities to engage students;
  • A comprehensive program called “Speed Friending” will be offered multiple times in order to facilitate meaningful interactions between students;
  • A history series, “Crash Course in Cornelliana,” will aim to instill Cornell pride, from Cornell history expert Corey Earle ’07;
  • “Community at Cornell,” the introductory diversity and inclusion program with the Intergroup Dialogue Project, will continue in a new three-part format and is available to family members as well; and
  • There will be no swim test this year.

“Orientation would not be possible without our volunteer student-led Orientation Steering Committee,” said Jamie Horn, assistant director for new student programs. “These students have continued to dedicate themselves to creating an inclusive Orientation program that helps students form social connections and begin to build community.”

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli