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O-Week Coords, First Year Programs plan for O-Week with uncertain future in mind

Illustration by Christina Tan

By Jennifer Li     4/14/20 9:14pm

Rice is planning for a full, face-to-face Orientation Week in August, but O-Week coordinators are preparing for an online O-Week followed by a possible Welcome Week when campus reopens if an in-person O-Week is not possible by August, according to Araceli Lopez, associate director of First Year Programs. 

Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman sent an email out on April 10, stating “that all students should plan for summer activities to occur in a remote format until July 1.” 

O-Week coordinators normally live on campus during the summer to work out the details for O-Week. According to Lopez, there is uncertainty about how housing would be implemented by July 1 since quarantine periods and logistics for the two weeks prior would have to be taken into consideration. 

“So far, we’ve notified the coords [that they can potentially come back on July 1],” Lopez said. “However, depending on how the situation progresses in Houston and around the world, I also have to be mindful of where our coords are currently settled and what the state of that city is around the coronavirus.”

According to Lopez, the coordinators will prepare for O-Week remotely up until July 1 and start event planning once they have a clearer schedule. She said they are currently focusing on other aspects of O-Week that do not require college- or campus-specific interactions.

“Whenever we’re able to return on campus and have clearer dates, we’ll start event planning then,” Lopez said. “[For now], we can have [the coordinators] brainstorm trainings for the advisors without knowing whether we’re going to be online or in person … and figure out how we can continue to build a community and support for the new students.”

Lopez said that spring advisor training will now be online, and they have been scheduled with midterms and finals in mind, so it’s been stretched out across a month rather than a day, as would have been typical.

Campuswide coordinator Matthew Burns emphasized that with such little information about how next semester will pan out, the O-Week coordinators are taking things slowly. 

“We're just trying to take things one step at a time and solve one problem at a time,” Burns, a Lovett College junior, said. “With this climate it's so hard to tell what things will look like come August.”

If O-Week were to be held online, Lopez said she would like to see an event when students return to give new students the chance to get a feel for campus culture and help returning students adjust to coming back on campus. Lopez said one possibility is a Welcome Week that could incorporate events from Willy Week, Beer Bike and O-Week, while still being mindful of class schedules and those who would help plan the event, specifically the coordinators whose roles and time commitments would be altered. 

"Ideally, I think it would be great if we had [a] week of events to welcome our students to and back to campus,” Lopez said. “[I] ... would like to collaborate with Student Activities and other departments on campus to see this through, but again I am waiting to hear from the administration on what is going to happen so I can start reaching out to those campus partners and plan accordingly."

O-Week coordinators have already started preparing for the possibility of an online O-Week and are working with the administration to identify which aspects of O-Week would easily translate to an online format and which would have to be canceled.

“We always have different support services and resources on campus that we want to introduce to the new students,” Lopez said. “And if we can’t give them the face time during O-Week, we can move some things online for this year if the university comes back and says we’re going to do it online.” 

Lopez said that she has been communicating with administration, O-Week coordinators and new students about the current situation and the process of moving people back on campus, especially taking into consideration students’ backgrounds. In addition, adjustments for new students have been made to accommodate the current situation, according to Lopez.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty around quarantine and being able to move back on campus,” Lopez said. “But everything with new student communication is on track, and we haven’t derailed any of those dates [on the new student checklist].”

Regardless of the format that O-Week takes, Aaron Vaughan, a McMurtry College coordinator, said that the focus should be on the new students and generally being there for them throughout the experience.

“In the end, we’re all here for the new students,” said Vaughan, a sophomore. “I think that regardless of what happens, we’re staying really committed to making this experience the best that it could possibly be for them.”

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