Thomas Arce (left) and Zoé Smiley (right) at the
42nd Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience

Oregon Tech Student Affairs staff members Thomas Arce, Director of Student Involvement and Belonging, and Zoé Smiley, New Student Programs Coordinator, made a special presentation at the 42nd Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience highlighting the overhaul of the first-year student orientation that Student Involvement and Belonging (SIB) embarked on in 2022.

The event, which took place Feb. 3-6 in Los Angeles, Calif., was sponsored by the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and brought more than 1,800 attendees to share experiences, concerns, and accomplishments related to supporting student learning, development, and success in the first college year.

During their segment, titled “Orientation Overhaul: Building a New Program,” Arce and Smiley explained that prior to 2022 Oregon Tech’s student orientation consisted of a three-day program with meet-and-greets, parent sessions, overviews of campus, and general game nights. The lacking component, however, was that students didn’t form a strong connection to Oregon Tech and on-campus faculty and staff.

In 2022, the SIB team launched changes to create a more personal orientation experience that highlighted campus partners and cross-campus collaboration.

“By creating an in-house experience, it allowed us to invite our academic partners and administrators to be part of the welcome experience for our new students, similar to when students depart at graduation,” Arce said. “This is one of the many opportunities for students to see who is there to help them throughout their Owl experience.”

Arce and Smiley presented their integrated model for program development at the conference, sharing the steps they took to align the mission and vision of the first-year experience with Oregon Tech’s strategic plan. S.O.A.R.-ing Into Success student experience was born.

“The development S.O.A.R-ing into Success came from SIB’s evaluation of previous years of programming and we concluded that our new student programs needed to be rebranded,” Smiley said. “Thus, leading us to dive into the details of the program and how we intentionally developed a high-impact practice to help with the transition of our new students into our institution.”

2022 S.O.A.R-ing into Success post-event survey data

S.O.A.R.-ing Into Success launched at Oregon Tech’s Klamath Falls campus in Fall 2022 with three days of activities for 463 undergraduate students and more than 350 extra participants, including family and students’ guests.

Post-event surveys showed an increase in new student familiarity with the campus, programs, and departments, and an overall increase in the connection students felt with Oregon Tech.

"SIB understands the uncertainty that comes from changing a program that has been done a certain way for years,” Arce said. “We appreciate the support from our Student Affairs division and academic partners that helped us champion a program that brought over 30 programs and departments together to welcome new students and their families.”

SIB is already planning the 2023 event and addressing challenges identified in 2022.

"As we continue the development of our new student programs, we are excited to implement new opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions and student leadership roles, and continue the mission of offering innovative, professionally focused, skill-building programs to support the transition that our students and their supporters are going through,” Smiley said.