Carnegie Mellon University
August 17, 2020

Building Foundations

Undergraduate and graduate orientations introduce incoming students to CMU

By Heidi Opdyke

Jason Maderer
  • Marketing and Communications
  • 412-268-1151

Like many things that have changed in 2020, incoming students will be welcomed in a brand-new way. But the goals are the same: to introduce students to the Carnegie Mellon University community.

Undergraduate Orientation, Aug. 23-29

In alignment with the university's plan for fall semester, first-year orientation will offer a hybrid model. Students who are remote at home, off-campus in Pittsburgh or elsewhere will participate in the same remote sessions as on-campus students. On-campus students will be provided limited in-person opportunities such as outdoor exercise and meal pick-ups.

"While there are certainly elements of the in-person program that we'll miss, we're also really excited for the ways that we've been able to pivot some of our yearly traditions," said Julie Schultz, associate dean for parent and family engagement and first-year orientation.

Hallmark community building programs that will be delivered in a remote format include Playfair, an evening of large group ice breakers and community building, and Community Collage, an event of cultural performances, spoken word and student testimonials that highlight the diversity of CMU.

New activities this year will be daily virtual small group meetings between orientation counselors and small groups of on-campus and remote first-year students.

"In past years, these small group meetings have only happened a couple times during the nine-day program," Schultz said. "I'm excited for these small groups to develop close relationships and hope that our first-year students will end the week knowing many new people and having a support system in the university community."

Along with scheduled programs, incoming students are expected to complete some orientation activities on their own through Canvas, CMU's online course management platform. Those modules include information about COVID-19 campus safety expectations; diversity, equity and inclusion; constructive dialogue and discussion; academic integrity; and campus resources.

This year's theme is Impact. Funmbi Jaiyeola, one of this year's seven head orientation counselors, said the team is excited to meet the new students and share how CMU can impact them and vice versa.

"We wanted something that would make first years feel like they can leave a mark on campus. And campus can also leave a mark on them," said Jaiyeola, a senior in electrical and computer engineering with a minor in audio engineering. "But they don't need to feel obligated to do something huge. You can make an impact in the conversation you have with a person or the organization you decide to join."

That impact could also speak to the profound impact that Carnegie Mellon will have on students, not only for their college years, but for a lifetime, Schultz added.

Jaiyeola, who is also president of CMU's National Society of Black Engineers, said she wanted to join CMU when she was nine years old.

"It's the only place I wanted to be," she said. "Everything about the school just seemed like something I wanted be a part of."

Her advice to incoming students: bring an open mind.

"CMU pushes you and gives you all these different emotions," she said. "It's also college, so be ready for hard times, but know that even in those hard times, there are people within your community who are there to help you. CMU is a very collaborative place."

Head Orientation Counselor Max Gamerman said he hopes that students come away with a sense of connectedness after the week.

"It's been so important and so crucial," said Gamerman, who is a senior majoring in behavioral economics, policy and organizations with a minor in humanities analytics. "In a physically distant space, whether people are on campus or remote learning this semester, the relationships that we form are so essential to the college experience."

He also said that outside of classes, students should keep in mind how they feel and who they spend their time with.

"Do things that make you feel good and be around people that make you feel happy. Take care of yourself. These are going to be the best years of your life."

The undergraduate and graduate orientation programs have always worked to address diversity, equity and inclusion. This year CMU has doubled down on efforts in response to CMU President Farnam Jahanian's July 2 message with a focus on a shared commitment to "build and sustain an inclusive culture that promotes equity for all and is intolerant of racism, discrimination and bias."

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Holly Hippensteel, associate vice president for community standards and diversity initiatives, said that orientation content was adjusted this year to be timely and relevant for students based on what is happening on campus, in the U.S. and around the world.

"Remote orientation offered a ready opportunity to curate and deliver content via Canvas," Hippensteel said. "We worked in partnership to create DEI content across orientation sessions for all new members of our community — both first-year and graduate students."

The offering consists of a series of modules that includes:

• The new Everfi training module "Diversity and Inclusion for College Students;"
• An overview of CMU specific communications highlighting President Jahanian's July 2 email on confronting racism and promoting equity;
• An interview by Ayana Ledford, director of diversity and inclusion for the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Science and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, with Jason England, an assistant professor of English, about social movements and social activism;
• A panel of current students who are actively involved in social change movements;
• Information on effective communication and constructive dialogue; and
• An extensive set of resources for students to explore and learn more on their own.

"These sessions are meant to be the beginning, an invitation to our newest community members into these discussions and the work that the president has outlined," Hippensteel said.

Information gathered this year will be used to inform design and delivery of future educational offerings, added Joanna Dickert, assistant dean of educational experience assessment.

"Our goal is to help students continue to build their knowledge base and capacity to apply what they have learned about allyship behaviors and inclusive practices," Dickert said.

Graduate Orientation, Aug. 17-21

Graduate orientation kicked off on Monday with the President's Welcome and a University Resources Panel.

Orientation activities will take place each day for students to learn more about CMU's research environment, resources and networking.