Thursday, March 29, 2018

Administrator Life: New Student Orientation

When I think back about this week, I will likely remember all the furniture moving that I did--not in my house, but at school. We decided that we wanted a different kind of New Student Orientation, one that involved sharing a meal together after dividing the new students by program of study. We have 2 classrooms connected with a folding wall, so we have the space. But it involved moving all the tables that were configured for classes into tables configured for meal sharing.

We don't have a team of custodians who can be instructed to do that work. The Admissions team needed to be making phone calls to prospective students. We don't have many full-time faculty at all, so most of the faculty are elsewhere in this week between classes. In short, I did it, and I did it with some amount of joy--although occasionally I made a joke about having gone to school for many years to be trained to move tables.

I also did a lot of shopping: for tablecloths, for other paper products, for food. Let me just say a prayer of apology to all of the church women in my past who insisted that we wash the cheap, plastic throw-away tablecloths, which used to exasperate me, but now I have some understanding. It would be expensive to buy new tablecloths for every event.

We had a great event.  I was pleased with the way the room looked, although it's impossible to transform a classroom with its industrial carpeting and sturdy desks/tables into the type of bistro atmosphere I'd have preferred.  We had platters of sandwiches and wraps on one table, and small bags of a wide assortment of chips, along with a wide assortment of drinks and cookies, on a different table.  We had small plotted plants as a centerpiece for every table.

Today I will do the work of restoring the room to two classrooms:  the plants returned to the offices, the tables put back into classroom configuration, the tablecloths folded and stored for the next event.

And yes, when I went to grad school, I didn't think I'd spend so much time doing these tasks.  I think of my mentors in grad school--many of those women were the first to achieve tenure in English departments.  They always told female grad students like me to avoid the tasks that have traditionally been delegated to females:  "Don't be the one to make the coffee.  Don't be the one to bake the cookies."

There's some wisdom to that, if I was at a big campus with a big staff.  But I'm not.  We all have to pitch in, if we want a successful school.  And I do.

I often say that because we're a small school, it means we have to do a lot--but it also means we GET to do a lot of things.  It's much like being at a small church--if one person has the vision and wants to commit the energy to a project that supports the larger mission, the project proceeds.  But I don't have the time or energy to pursue someone's project if they're not also willing to expend the time and energy.

I could have been hierarchical, living in my own silo.  I could have said, "New Student Orientation is an Admissions event, and I'm not going to help put it together."  But the resulting New Student Orientation wouldn't have been as nice as the one last night.  I'm happy to be part of the team that put it together.  And I'm happy that so many students came.  

I'm hopeful that a wonderful New Student Orientation is one way to improve our retention numbers.  My theory is that we improve retention the more often we can make students feel welcome and at a place that feels like a good home to them, like a place full of love, acceptance, and joy.  New Student Orientation is a great place to start. 

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