Rural students not targeted with special programs for orientation, says university official

Orientation experiences are intended to help first-year students in their transition to campus. These programs, however, lack clear initiative for one demographic: rural students.

Organizers from the Office for First Year Programs and Orientation said they don’t specifically have rural students in mind when planning orientation.

“For our office, because we run such large-scale programming and serve all students, it is challenging to focus on every individual sub-population,” said Chelsea Garcia, associate director of operations for orientation and transition experiences at the university’s Office for Orientation & Transition Experiences. “That being said, there are probably other departments and units on campus focusing on these students.”

AccessU: Beyond the Cities has found no such programs designed specifically to offer support or orientation for Greater Minnesota students.

Some students say they do just fine without any special orientation programming.

“Coming from Hawley, Minnesota, orientation was really helpful because that’s how I found my current friend group,” said pre-law student Sam Dauner from Hawley, Minnesota, a town of 2,190. “They made the big city seem more friendly.”

But for others, like Rachel Stark, an agricultural education major from New Ulm Minnesota, it’s not so great. Coming from a hometown of just over 13,000 people, Stark anticipated a rocky transition to University life but found few resources to ease the process.

“I personally don’t think the orientation process helped with acclimating to campus,” Stark said. “I thought it would be scary moving here, especially because you only hear of the bad things on the news in the hustle and bustle of the city.”

The university’s general orientation programs are built to acclimate students to city and campus life. Beyond the touring of campus and what it has to offer, the orientation programs also offer various events to explore Minnesota, such as a trip downtown or to the Mall of America.

“I feel like they could help out students a lot more if they actually took the time to take groups of students around and show them how to get from place to place,” said Mason Padilla, a chemistry major  from Owatonna, Minnesota. “I felt a little overwhelmed at times due to the size of the city, and getting around is definitely a lot different.”

Changes may be in the works. The Office for Orientation & Transition Experiences is currently developing UMNetworks, an orientation-based initiative which seeks to place students into student-generated interest and identity groups, Garcia said. She also said these identity groups could place rural students that identify as such in a group based on their background and particular interests during the orientation experience.

While these aren’t necessarily catered to rural students, UMNetworks could place them within a group they identify with, Garcia said.

For now, some rural students said they establish their own communities outside of orientation in their residence halls, fraternities, sororities and other organizations that suit their interests.

“I joined Delta Theta Sigma [an agriculture-based frat], which helped me make connections and meet friends,” said Matthew Strobel, a university Freshman from Pemberton, Minnesota. “It feels like my small town community, and how close we all are.”