“How we onboard students sets them up for success,” executive director of Student Outreach and Transition Theresa Lyons said.
Rapidly changing this year, Howl Days has been the UAA orientation since 2001. It includes sessions that communicate to students and their families about the caring culture at the university, invites them to take ownership of campus safety, introduces them to diversity and informs them about resources and services available to help students be successful.
“It’s a comprehensive program that’s designed to facilitate the new students’ integration to the intellectual, academic and social cultures of the university,” Lyons said.
Separated into groups large enough to fill a lecture room, students go through sessions throughout the course of a day. They are lead by New Student Orientation employees and representatives from other UAA departments depending on the session topic.
Of the Howl Days sessions, the diversity and the Student Conduct and Safety have been the most popular, Lyons said.
The National Coalition Building Institute, or NCBI, leads the diversity session. An NCBI representative calls out different background factors, such as ethnicity or religion, that students might identify with. The students who relate with the particular identity stand and everyone applauds in support. This lets students know who they are sharing the campus with and that they are to be respected, Lyons said.
The University Police Department and Title IX lead the Student Conduct and Safety session. It impresses upon the students what is expected of them and informs them about academic integrity, sexual misconduct and other similar topics.
Aside from sharing important information with new students, Howl Days helps begin meaningful relationships between individual students and the rest of the UAA community.
The program that unifies new students and integrates them into the UAA community is increasing in importance; Howl Days will be mandatory in the 2020-2021 academic year. Now free for students, Howl Days has been mandatory in the past, but was not enforced. Next year, there will be a hold on registration until students attend.
This policy will be enforced due to Michael Tallino-Smith’s, research data analyst of student affairs, findings. Tallino-Smith found that 10% more students who attended Howl Days in the 2012-2013 academic year returned to UAA the following year than students who didn’t attend. New student orientation leaders hope to increase the retention rate for freshman from 72.1 to 79%. The Student Outreach and Transition team has made several changes to Howl Days in order to reach this goal.
Howl Days currently introduces incoming students to their first year advisor. This year, there will be a three-hour session for students to meet their advisors and register for classes.
The first year advisers will be assigned based on pathways. Rather than applying to a colleges within UAA, incoming students will apply to a pathways, a broad category of study, in 2020. This allows for more exploration within a field and an easier transition from one major within a college to another because of overlapping requirements.
Students must take their placement testing before Howl Days so that they can be assigned the right courses. This is one of the measures that Vice Provost for Student Success Claudia Lampman has taken to improve grades.
“We have, as a university, pretty high failure rates for a lot of the introductory classes,” orientation coordinator Whitney Penn said. “The Vice Provost for Student Success did a ton of work in revising everything so at orientation, students are being advised by how they score on placement exams and put into specific classes in which they are going to have the most success. If you are doing well, you are more likely to stay. Even if you end up moving to another university, you’re set up for success there too.”
The Student Outreach and Transition office hopes to increase the persistence rate, or the number of students returning the following semester, to 87% and have 120 students register for classes at Howl Days this year.
Because of the registration and advising components, Howl Days now start on April 20 as opposed to August. They are also no longer specific to colleges within UAA as they were in the past. As of summer 2019, they are all general.
Despite the recent changes, Howl Days still have roughly the same kind of sessions that work to inform students and integrate them into the UAA community.
“The ultimate thing is that students feel connected to something on campus before they get here, whether that’s a department or another person that they met [at orientation],” Penn said. “Because it’s a commuter school, that connection is a harder thing to build.”
It is this connection and integration that Howl Days leaders hope will bring incoming students back to UAA.
“I think what’s important for the day is that we have thought well about the students and their families… so that when they leave, they are looking forward to coming back,” Lyons said.
For more information or to register for Howl Days, visit the UAA website.