Even though he technically didn't have a choice, Pedro Monge said attending New Student Orientation at HCC this week was a probably a good idea.
"Everyone should go to orientation," said Monge, 17, of Springfield, who plans to study liberal arts. "It helped me to understand what I need to know. Things are more clear."
That's exactly the way it's supposed to be.
This fall, there is a lot that's new about New Student Orientation. The most important change is that orientation is no longer optional for incoming students. It's mandatory.
"If they don't show up, they're dropped from their classes," said Michele Snizek, HCC's First Year Education coordinator.
Of course, that's not really what anyone wants.
New students were required to register in advance for one of 13 morning, afternoon or evening sessions lasting about three hours. They received two letters over the summer to remind them of that obligation -- their parents also received a postcard reminder -- and an email as the school year drew close. If they didn't show up when they were supposed to, they received a phone call that night from an HCC administrator to schedule them for another session.
"That shows you we're not kidding," President Bill Messner said in his opening remarks to students in the Leslie Phillips Theater at the beginning of each orientation session the week of Aug. 27th. "The reason we're not kidding is that all of the data suggests orientation does have an effect."
That effect is to keep students in school. HCC revamped its orientation program last fall as part of its First Year Education program, which seeks to improve retention, graduation and transfer rates by improving the entire college experience for new students. That includes introducing them to the various resources and support services that are available so they don't feel like they are lost -- or alone.
"We know students who get engaged are more successful," said Snizek.
While the number of orientation sessions was increased last year from a handful to 13, attendance wasn't mandatory. This year it is and the effect, while no surprise really, has been dramatic in increasing attendance. Thursday's tally alone was 801, not counting family members and friends.
"We had so many, we filled up the Forum and there was standing room only in the PeoplesBank Room," said Dean of Students Amnat Chittaphong. "We probably used every extra chair in the Kittredge Center and we still had to open up another room."
One of this year's main new features was the Resource Expo that followed the conclusion of formal orientation. Tables and displays were set up all around the lobby outside the Leslie Phillips Theater dedicated to HCC's many programs and student services, from the Office of Students with Disabilities and Deaf Services and Student Activities to the Advising Center and Career Center.
In previous years, tables were simply stacked with information sheets and handouts describing HCC programs and services. This year, program tables were staffed so students could ask questions.
There were also stations where students could get their parking stickers, rather than wait in long lines at the Public Safety building, as in past years. There was also a room in the Kittredge Center where students could get their students IDs validated and another where they could get answers to their financial aid and billing questions.
Another big change: Rather than burden new students with reams of paper that used to include the Student Handbook, every student this year received all their "printed" information on a flash drive that was handed out at the end of their session.
While Friday, August 31, was the last day of formal orientation sessions, there are more scheduled for the week after Labor Day for evening students and a makeup session Wednesday, September 5 during Student Activity period. Depending on demand, another makeup session might be scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 8. There is also an online orientation option for available for new students with prior approval from Student Affairs.
Photos: (Left) A new student checks in at orientation. (Right) A new student talks with HCC sophomore Christian Salazar.