New eight-day Golden Bear Orientation starts Tuesday

Two years in the making, an ambitious program to introduce all 9,500 incoming students to UC Berkeley launches next Tuesday, Aug. 15. Golden Bear Orientation (GBO) — eight jam-packed days of training sessions, ice breakers, tours and academic programming — is expected to be the largest orientation of its kind at a U.S. university, in terms of the number of students participating.

Golden Bear Orientation will offer incoming students countless opportunities to mingle and get their bearings. (UC Berkeley photo by Elena Zhukova)

The new GBO starts the day after Move-In Day, Monday, Aug. 14, when, over a 12-hour period, some 7,000 new students will move into the residence halls. A limited number of students will move in a day earlier.

GBO replaces Berkeley’s venerable CalSO (Cal Student Orientation) program, which began in the 1960s and, for more than 50 years, ran two-day sessions each summer for 300 to 500 incoming freshmen at a time and one-day sessions for transfer students.

But it was a hardship for about 20 percent of these students — especially low-income and out-of-state students — to make the trip to campus in June and July, only to return again in August to begin classes. Travel costs and summer jobs were among the impediments.

In Zellerbach Hall, new students will attend Bear Pact, a presentation about sexual violence and harrassment, alcohol use and mental health. (New Student Services photo)

Now, with orientation immediately before the semester’s start, “we know we’ll have nearly 100 percent coming, and all at the same time,” says Chrissy Roth-Francis, director of New Student Services. “We want all our students to make it to orientation and to have an accessible and equitable experience.”

“It was important to us to create a stronger sense of class identity and community for each incoming class, so that they’d feel a sense of belonging to a community, and to a community of scholars, beginning the day they first walk onto campus,” adds Cathy Koshland, vice chancellor for undergraduate education.

Presentations, lectures and training sessions will help students prepare for the start of fall semester. (New Student Services photo)

In the past, each entering class of students typically met at Berkeley only twice as an entire group — at new student convocation and then at graduation. This school year, 6,500 new freshmen and 3,000 new transfer students will have three shared experiences their first week on campus:

  • Incoming Student Convocation: At a 2 p.m. ceremony on Tuesday, Aug. 15, at Haas Pavilion, Chancellor Carol Christ and other campus leaders will officially welcome all new students to the campus community.
  • Bear Affair: New students will form a giant letter C on the field of California Memorial Stadium beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 15, hoping to break the Guinness World Record for the largest human letter. The University of Tennessee holds the current title.
  • Bear Territory: All students will receive diversity and inclusion training at Haas Pavilion on Thursday morning, Aug. 17, through large group activities, speakers and small group discussions.

Students will be assigned to small orientation groups on Tuesday morning as they gather on Memorial Glade and outside the Valley Life Sciences Building. (New Student Services photo)

First thing Tuesday morning, all incoming freshmen and transfer students will be assigned for the week to small groups led by 575 student orientation leaders. These groups will take part in activities such as Bay Area excursions, training sessions about sexual violence, a campus resource fair, Caltopia, discussion sessions and campus tours.

Among the evening activities is a Sunday, Aug. 20, keynote lecture by Jeremy McCarter, co-author of “Hamilton: The Revolution.” As part of On the Same Page, an annual program hosted by the College of Letters and Science, all incoming students and faculty reviewed over the summer the cast album to the hit musical “Hamilton.”

An orientation program of this magnitude “is unique for an institution of our size,” says Stephen Sutton, interim vice chancellor for student affairs. “But like it does in all domains, Berkeley decided it wasn’t too big or unwieldy a project to tackle. And if we make a big university feel very small, that will be the greatest outcome.”

College Days, online advising bring change

Across the campus, departments, schools and colleges all joined the elaborate and lengthy planning process, which required a shift in some of the ways that, for decades, staff and faculty helped new students get their bearings.

Some 6,500 freshmen and 3,000 transfer students are new to campus this month. (New Student Services photo)

At CalSO, many incoming students met one on one, albeit briefly, with an academic adviser. But this summer, over several weeks’ time, they took part in Golden Bear Advising, hopping on their computers to engage in online learning modules tailored to their fields of study and to meet virtually with their advisers through video conferencing tools. Students also connected with advisers via email.

At the College of Natural Resources (CNR), students viewed four videos that included a welcome from the dean, an overview about advising services at CNR and peer-to-peer advice from existing CNR students about their freshman and transfer student experiences.

“More than 90 percent of CNR students submitted their course schedules to us by the deadline this summer, and we did intensive outreach to the rest,” says Rebecca Sablo, CNR’s assistant dean of instruction and student affairs. “In the end, everyone we reached submitted a schedule.”

On historic Sproul Plaza, students can stroll along rows of tables offering them the chance to join organizations and support causes. (New Student Services photo)

While in-person advising has its benefits, says Bob Jacobsen, dean of undergraduate studies in the College of Letters and Science, GBO is taking away the pressure new students felt at CalSO to talk to an adviser and choose classes, all within 24 hours. In addition, students who couldn’t go to CalSO had the disadvantage of registering last, after those who attended got their pick.

“We stretched advising out this summer over many weeks,” says Jacobsen, “with the goal of having students register at the end of the process, and having had time to think about their choices after connecting with an adviser.”

In prior years, many academic units on campus also only had a brief time during CalSO to welcome new students, with faculty often playing a minor role. CNR now will now hold three substantial GBO “College Days” to acquaint incoming students with professors, labs, students from upper classes and advisers. They’ll also explore undergraduate research and attend poster sessions and alumni panel discussions.

At the College of Letters and Science, which encompasses more than half of Berkeley’s faculty and 75 percent of its undergraduates, “First Lectures” will be offered to give new students a taste of the span and vibrancy of each of seven academic areas.

In the past, about 20 percent of students couldn’t attend orientation, which was held mid-summer. (New Student Services photo)

The College of Engineering’s 1,100 new students will attend a welcome by the dean at Zellerbach Hall, scavenger hunts to acquaint them with the college’s library and tutoring center, student-led panels on academic transition and resilience, academic readiness workshops by faculty and graduate student instructors and an ice cream social.

The college also created a podcast, The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer

“It’s good to get students to campus early and acclimate them to campus more gradually,” says Sharon Mueller, director of advising and policy for Engineering Student Services. “They’ll have more time to develop friendships and be spending a lot of time in their groups.”

Events target unique needs of first-years, transfers

In their small groups, students will benefit from a diverse array of orientation activities designed to help them get to know not only each other, but campus expectations and how to cope with the rigors of college life. Some of these events include:

  • Bear Pact: Presentations on Aug. 17 and 18 followed by small group conversations about sexual violence and harassment, alcohol use and mental health. Students who don’t attend this Zellerbach Hall event receive a hold on future enrollment.
  • Failing Forward: An Aug. 19 and 20 presentation at Zellerbach Hall at which faculty, staff and alumni will share personal stories of resiliency in the face of adversity.
  • My Golden Years: Monologues by current students at various campus locations on Aug. 19 and 20 about the highs and lows of their time at Berkeley.

This year’s new Golden Bear Orientation is expected to be the largest of its kind in the nation. (New Student Services photo)

Freshmen will get to know the Bay Area better — and how to navigate public transportation — through supervised excursions Aug. 17-20. Activities will include trips to Plank Restaurant in Oakland, a cruise on San Francisco Bay and museum tours.

Transfer students, however, will be taken on special Aug. 18 excursions to visit Bay Area companies and organizations — some of them campus business partners and others run by Berkeley alumni — where they will learn about internship and career opportunities, get tips from industry professionals and network with alumni.

On Sunday, Aug. 20, a mixer on Memorial Glade will acquaint transfer students with some 200 alumni.

Earlier this year, 575 current students trained to be orientation leaders for the new Golden Bear Orientation. (New Student Services photo)

“Transfers are different from first-year students — they have two years of college credit behind them and are more focused when they arrive on campus on what they want to do and what they need to do it. They’re ready to hit the ground running,” explains Roth-Francis. “We’re helping them network and meet alumni right away. We have alumni in amazing companies and positions all over the Bay Area, and employers excited to meet these students.”

In addition, the Career Center will be hosting three “Cal to Career Connections” transfer student events on Thursday, Aug. 17 in both Pauley Ballroom and Zellerbach Hall.

These activities for transfers follow another new effort launched earlier this summer. The Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence’s Transfer Student Center offered a six-week Transfer Transition Program (TTP) for a cohort of incoming Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) transfer students that included academic counseling and two courses to support their transition to Berkeley.

 Tradition amid transition

While orientation has changed, one tradition remains a fixture at back-to-school time. Entering its fourth summer, the Golden Bear Express will once again roll up the coast this Sunday. Six buses will transport approximately 165 low-income incoming students from Southern California to Berkeley through a partnership between New Student Services and the Cal Alumni Association (CAA).

Six CAA chapters — Orange County, San Diego, Long Beach, South Bay, San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles — together raised nearly $15,000 for the effort through a social media-driven grassroots fundraiser.

Seats on the Golden Bear Express – six buses for incoming students from Southern California – are being funded by alumni. (New Student Services photo)

“Chapter leaders were encouraged to reach out to friends, family and their local alumni base via social media to donate $68 to cover the cost of one student’s seat and an In-N-Out lunch at the halfway point in Kettleman City,” says Sarah Yi, CAA program manager for the Southern California and out-of-state chapters. “Through 135 donors, we’ve raised $14,255 and counting.”

“This has been a great way to involve alumni in our new student efforts,” says Roth-Francis.

Those involved in planning GBO say they look forward to seeing the new process unfold and learning what can be improved upon in years to come.

Alumna Sofia Gonzalez Platas, who graduated from Berkeley in May and was one of six student coordinators who helped with GBO logistics, programming and training sessions, says the longer and very thorough new format “will provide more than enough time for students and GBO staff to mingle, connect and learn from one another. I hope it will help new students feel empowered and protected at UC Berkeley.”

Adds Sutton, “I’m going into this experience with my eyes wide open. We’re going to learn things to improve upon next year, to see things we didn’t anticipate. But I’m confident that students will feel uplifted after experiencing GBO.”