START offers a new start

UWL Director of Admissions, Corey Sjoquist, ’96 & ’03, welcomes incoming new students to the university’s first virtual orientation and registration — START — June 15. But moving online didn’t mean the new students found it impersonal. In fact, in some ways it was even more personal than face-to-face.

Virtual new student registration provides new opportunities

With physical distancing and virtual meetings — for everything from business to families — there was no question that new student registration wouldn’t be the same as in recent years.

With the global pandemic, new student registration — START—moved online. That doesn’t mean the new students didn’t find it personal. In fact, in some ways it was even more personal than face-to-face groups traditionally held on campus thanks to longer, individualized advising.

“Virtual START was very successful,” says Assistant Director of Admissions Sam Pierce, co-chair of the START Committee,’15. “We had really great engagement from both students and families. Students felt a very personal connection to campus by meeting virtually with many UWL staff and faculty.”

Before logging in, new students completed homework on Canvas, the university’s online learning management system. They watched videos to prepare for advising appointments, along with completing forms and other start-up tasks.

Joey D’Agostino, left, and Ken Koelbl, Admissions staff, organized packets in the Student Union. Packets were sent to new students registering for fall classes, providing information prior to logging into this year’s entirely online new student registration.

The most welcome change provided incoming students an individual, 20-minute appointment with a faculty advisor to discuss course registration.

“Now that we were able to spread out advising appointments, it definitely personalized the experience,” notes Pierce.

The virtual program included face-to-face programming with Eagle Guides, student leaders, who responded directly and provided firsthand advice. Following START, those registered could access a discussion board to ask Eagle Guides follow-up questions.

By the end of nine days of START, around 2,175 students registered for fall classes — a number very similar to last year.

Pierce says the switch to an all-virtual online orientation and registration was an all-campus effort. Faculty and staff thrived at providing quality customer service and sharing the UWL experience in a virtual format.

“We had a lot of support from everyone on campus,” he notes. “It was a great opportunity to welcome our students and set the stage for their continued success on campus.”
Pierce expects this year’s virtual process to influence START in the future.

“We are excited to use some of the successes moving back to face-to-face programming in order to create a more welcoming and personalized experience,” he says.

UWL is planning in-person classes in fall, with guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the La Crosse County Health Department, state leadership and UW System. A campus group is planning a path forward that prioritizes the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.

Classes will be at reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing. More online options will be offered, along with additional classroom safety to prevent COVID-19 spread.