A brand-new school year calls for a brand new approach to introducing Cal Poly’s incoming students to their new home. This month, Student Life and Leadership will implement integral changes to SOAR, one of Cal Poly’s three orientation programs.
SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising and Registration) is now a two-day event, offers on-campus housing and no longer organizes students by college. It will also include changes such as a tour of downtown San Luis Obispo, access to the Recreation Center and involvement of more faculty, deans and advisers from different colleges. SOAR focuses on familiarizing incoming students and their parents with Cal Poly’s academic and social environment, as well as the San Luis Obispo community. It will take place in nine sessions throughout July and part of August.
With the changes, the goal is to eliminate repetitiveness and make the program more worth the cost of travel and time spent, Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Preston Allen said.
“Some of the feedback that we’ve been given over the years about SOAR is that it’s real repetitive,” Allen said. “Some information they’ve gotten at open house, they now are hearing during SOAR. So we took a step backwards and tried to give a purposeful outcome to each of the different orientation programs.”
Both major and minor tweaks contribute to the goal of making SOAR a time where students and parents get comfortable with the campus and community. Some of the changes include:
1. SOAR will now be two days instead of just one
The first major change to the program is that it now lasts two days, which means more activities in exchange for a slightly higher cost. This year’s price is $100 to cover extra programming costs, said Assistant Coordinator of Orientation Programs Jason Mockford, compared to a $75 fee for last year’s one-day program.
While the fee did go up, it is lower than what the rest of the CSU campuses are charging for two-day summer orientation programming, Mockford said.
For the past two years of one-day programs, some participants gave feedback that it wasn’t enough, Allen said. Two days will give parents more time to learn about Cal Poly’s academic resources and get a sense of how their student will be living, he said.
“When we shorten the amount of move-in time, parents don’t have a chance to really say goodbye,” Allen said. “We really wanted them to do that during the summer, not only to say goodbye but to get them comfortable in leaving their student (in the fall).”
2. On-campus housing will now be offered
Director of Student Life and Leadership Stephan Lamb said with families staying overnight, part of the goal is to introduce the family as a unit to the city and university.
“This is really the only time that parents are oriented to the campus,” Lamb said. “When they’re on campus, there’s separate tracks (for parents and students); when they’re off campus, they’re a family unit. What we found is that the parents are as excited about being here as the students are.”
Participating families will have the option of staying in Poly Canyon Village during SOAR. This is a great deal economically, since San Luis Obispo hotel rates are highest during summer, Lamb said.
Both the longer program and on-campus housing options are nothing new to Cal Poly: SOAR was also a two-day program and offered on-campus housing three summers ago.
Jessica Lam, an architecture senior, stayed in Yosemite with her mom during this time and said this was helpful in her overall orientation experience.
“It helped me get a good sense of what it would be like to live on campus,” she said.
The most exciting part of the on-campus housing option this year is that it will be in Poly Canyon Village (PCV), Allen said.
“It’s a little bit more difficult to get comfortable in a residence hall for two days,” Allen said. “(In PCV), they’re able to bring their families and supporters … they can actually kind of self-sustain in a little bit more space and privacy. It’s not a five-star hotel, but it is the best camping trip you’ll ever go on.”
3. Students will not be grouped by college
The program will be available to students based on their personal availability instead of grouping them by colleges. SOAR’s seven orientation leaders from Student Life and Leadership will be in charge of the randomly-grouped students.
“We’re trying to reshape college culture so you’re not a liberal arts (major) first and a Cal Poly student second, but you’re a Mustang first,” Lamb said.
Lam said she wishes this change had been implemented during her SOAR experience.
“For me, personally, I would have liked it to be mixed because I also lived with people I majored with in (the red brick dorms),” Lam said. “Being with other architecture majors, I feel like you don’t get that well-roundedness than if you met people with different interests and with different goals than you. And having it grouped by major made it a very competitive environment.”
4. Students will tour and explore downtown SLO
In the past, trips to downtown have been more associated with Week of Welcome (WOW), but families will be able to get acquainted with it earlier, SOAR crew leader Brittany Cuthbert said. Families will initially be in a group, have lunch together at a restaurant and then explore the streets on their own until a set meeting time when everyone will take the program’s reserved charter buses back to campus.
Lam said she believes this component will be valuable to the program and add more appeal to the university.
“(Downtown) is very much a part of the community, and that’s what college is about,” she said. “You’re supposed to be aware of your community. If students get to know what it’s like ahead of time, they’ll be more motivated to take the bus and be more active.”
5. There will be no more block scheduling
In the past, SOAR has been a time when incoming freshmen would receive their block schedules and review them during an informational session. However, since the program begins in July rather than August, this component was taken out to alleviate pressure on the staff to complete schedules for all new students in time, Mockford said.
Students will instead be able to take a PolyLearn tutorial to understand their block schedule in August, Mockford said. PolyLearn will be discussed during SOAR.
6. Transfers and out-of-state students get one day of SOAR
Rather than going downtown and doing other recreational activities, the transfer and out-of-state program will focus mainly on their registration for classes, Mockford said. The programs closely precede the first day of the WOW, so additional information about safety and alcohol awareness addressed in July’s SOAR program will not be necessary, he said.
The SOAR program for incoming transfer students and families will happen Aug. 13 to 14, while the out-of-state and international program is only on Sept. 12 to provide the convenience of making just one trip before classes start, Mockford said.
Throughout the summer, these students can get better acquainted with Cal Poly life through PolyLive, a live video webcast airing every other week. Judging from previous years, PolyLive gets approximately a thousand views per week, Mockford said.
SOAR will also provide a special program component within the transfer session for military veterans. The program is working with local veteran services as well as Cal Poly ROTC programs, Lamb said. Veterans will be introduced to San Luis Obispo’s resources for health and job placement, and the program will focus on familiarizing them with financial aid.
“We’re recognizing nationally that returning veterans are a population that need special support systems,” Lamb said, “and that the adjustment back to a university may be more challenging.”
7. More activities will be offered
To wrap up the day on a good note, university housing activities, Recreation Center activities, entertainment and performances will be available during the evening. The Recreation Center will be available free of charge for SOAR participants.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to get creative and explore new places like the Rec Center,” Cuthbert said. “It’s a nighttime program; there’s nighttime activities and they can use some of our facilities more and figure things out.”
With the changes, the hope is to leave students and parents with a sense of comfort and belonging to the university and community, Allen said. He said he is confident the changes will prove effective and receive positive feedback from participants.
“The frontloading of the information and experience to students will be critical to their next time here at Cal Poly,” Allen said. “You pretty much hit the ground running and I want to make sure our orientation gives them a solid foundation to springboard and launch from. We want to make sure they’re coming away from the orientation experience saying, ‘I did make the right choice, I’m glad I’m here and I will succeed.’”