'Roll out the cardinal carpet,' as orientation returns in full

A group of orientation students on a campus tour stop outside Ma

A group of summer orientation students on a campus tour in 2016 stop to listen to a Cyclone Aide outside MacKay Hall. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Student orientation is returning to its usual form this year for the first time since 2019, offering Cyclones-to-be an opportunity for a two-day in-person introduction to Iowa State.

In 2020, all orientation activity was online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, orientation had a required online portion that included academic meetings and registering for fall classes in a virtual session with an advisor, with an optional one-day "OnCyte" campus orientation. About half of incoming students opted for the campus orientation.

The online option continues this year, but the 90% of students who plan to visit campus for orientation will enjoy a full schedule of in-person meetings and activities over two days, with an opportunity to stay in campus housing, said new student programs director Sarah Merrill.

"We're really excited to have students and their families back on campus experiencing what Iowa State's all about," she said. "It's clear to me students and families can't wait to step foot on our beautiful campus and start making that connection."

More than 5,000 first-year students are planning to participate in OnCyte orientation, Merrill said. Students typically bring two family members with them, so the orientation sessions will involve about 15,000 visitors throughout June. Sessions will be held on weekdays, along with two planned to begin on a Sunday (June 5 and 26). Overnight stays will be in Maple Hall, and orientation parking is in Lot 63 east of the Maple-Willow-Larch complex. Friley Windows dining center will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The online alternative likely is a mainstay for years to come, Merrill said, because it makes orientation more accessible to students who live far away or are unavailable in June.

The up to 300 students at a time who opt for OnCyte orientation will have a busy agenda that includes meetings with faculty and staff in their college, tours with Cyclone Aides, getting their ISUCard, social activities and a wide selection of informational sessions. Newly added is a Day Two resource fair at the Student Innovation Center, where students can get personalized attention from more than 30 university departments who will have a representative on hand.

In addition to acclimating incoming students to campus, orientation helps seal the deal for some. Many students attend orientations at multiple institutions to help make a final decision about where to enroll, Merrill said. She urges faculty and staff to make a special effort to be friendly, helpful and clear (no acronyms) with visiting students and their families.

Patience may be especially important this year. Students might not have the same frame of reference for what orientation is like since it's been different the past two summers, and their own paths through high school have been unique, as well. There may be more questions than usual, Merrill said.

"Really bring out that Cyclone spirit and roll out the cardinal carpet to help these students prepare to be successful at Iowa State," she said.

Every effort counts because hundreds of faculty and staff impact the orientation experience, Merrill said, from facilities crews maintaining the grounds and dining staff serving meals to faculty meeting with students and advisors helping them sign up for fall courses.

"Orientation really is a community effort," she said.