In a year dominated by the COVID-19 virus, Welcome Week, which is SUNY Cortland’s traditional ice-breaker program for student newcomers living on campus, is changed. But not by much.
Out of an abundance of caution due to the ongoing pandemic, the university has modified its planned assortment of in-person Welcome Week games, social gatherings and informational sessions on club opportunities and campus living services to be a bit more at arm’s length, that is, at least six feet of physical distance.
Starting on Saturday, Aug. 22, some 1,900 first-year and transfer students to Cortland can enjoy a relaxing week before digging into their studies on Monday, Aug. 31.
The measures to reduce groupings of campus community members meeting in person, to move them out-of-doors, to require face coverings and to convert classic favorite activities to an online format is intended to let everyone have fun but stay safe within state and city guidelines.
Certain activities will go forward remotely, using software to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, including virtual bingo, trivia night, Student Club Fair, PlayFair (getting to know other new students), an academic department welcome, office resource fair and an open mic/talent contest. But other gatherings will be face to face, covered and physically distanced, of course, including:
Lots of planning in advance by a multi-departmental committee allows this year’s Welcome Week to proceed.
“We will have selected events going on in all of the residence halls,” said Mary Kate Morris ’06, Cortland’s associate director of Campus Activities and Corey Union Office, who coordinated a multi-departmental committee that planned the week’s activities around the need to keeping a physical distance between participants. Every residence hall has its own event schedule for the week.
“We have 18 separate schedules,” one for each building, said Morris, and illustrated the labor involved in planning just one event, the annual Welcome Week picnic. Even within one residence hall, it’s been set up that students might attend the same picnic at one of three specific times, based on what floor or even room they live on.
“We’re trying to reduce density at events by putting individuals in smaller groups and grouping them where they will already be living,” Morris said. “So they will already have had some contact with the people they will participate with. It has been a challenge to put their schedules together.”
And the picnic and other in-person events are not hosted in the building lounges, either, but in one of seven outdoor tents put up around campus just for the purpose of creating space between where people are meeting and interacting.
Outdoor activities also will include lawn games, a scavenger hunt and a movie night held at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex. A Small Group – Making Connections event is set aside for newcomers who weren’t able to attend orientation or the spring Open House.
“So for many of these students they haven’t met anyone else in person yet,” Morris said.
The scavenger hunt will use software called Goose Chase to create a hybrid in-person activity.
“They would walk around campus to do this,” Morris said. The online aspect is the live leaderboard that would track the progress of each competitor. The game can be set up to steer participants in any order so as to not have too many people congregate in one spot at the same time.
“We can have them take a picture in front of the scavenger item as proof they have completed a task,” Morris said. “We can have them answer a question. We can have them check in, and that could count as points toward finishing the scavenger hunt."
Prospective scholars can get the chance to meet a professor or two in one’s discipline before classes begin via a WebEx linked meeting. Abby Thomas, director of Advisement and Transition, is accepting RSVPs to set up the meetings.
In the past, first-year students and transfer students wandered among a room full of tables to find out more about student clubs and campus living resources from representatives on hand to answer questions.
Tabling goes virtual this year for the Student Club Fair, which can be accessed through the general information site for clubs called Cortland Connect. Students can indicate their preferred meeting method, whether WebEx, Teams or Zoom, to arrange an online get-together with club reps. Cortland Connect also contains a wealth of club general information in the event a club doesn’t participate in the fair. The annual Resource Fair will have about 25 different offices ready to discuss their services via a similar online meeting setup.
“We didn’t have any technology concerns but it is more challenging this year because we did have a lot more events happening simultaneously,” Morris said. “Trying to staff for Welcome Week, for instance. Last year, we did one picnic, this year we’re doing 17.
“We need staff to enforce the protocols such as keeping six feet apart and wearing face masks. That has been a challenge. It’s mostly been student and staff volunteers from all across campus. We have folks from all different departments helping out.”
Morris credited the Welcome Week Committee with pulling it all together. The committee includes Cyndi Lake, associate director for residence life and housing, staff development and programming; Eve Mascoli, assistant director of recreational sports for facilities and aquatics; Marinda Souva, associate director for transition programs; Greg Diller, coordinator of transition programs; Robert Sager, assistant manager, dining services with SUNY Cortland Auxiliary Services; and Jaclyn Lawrence, assistant director of athletics for events, marketing, and development. Morris thanked Renee Novelli, senior visual media specialist, for stepping up to the unusual demands of these times to design visual materials used to promote Welcome Week.