Editorial Board: A New NSO

Oct. 2, 2014, 12:27 a.m.

As the second week of classes wraps up, students new to the Farm have begun joining activities, forming study groups and identifying the faces around them. They are now building the network of connections that will guide them through their next four years.

Ideally, these connections would begin being formed during New Student Orientation (NSO). However, the current format of NSO makes it difficult to do so. While NSO offers important and necessary programming, it needs to be restructured in order to provide a smoother transition and a less overwhelming experience for incoming students.

The fundamental issue is that NSO is a large-group experience. Most students participate in NSO events alongside their entire dorm population. But the typical all-freshman dorm of approximately 85 people can be larger than some students’ graduating high school classes. While these dorms can develop into fantastic communities over the course of a year, they are too large to provide an effective entry point, leaving students feeling lost in the turmoil.

Furthermore, the large-group emphasis means that programming is targeted toward the masses. The deluge of pro-Stanford messaging and high-energy perkiness may be more appropriate for Admit Weekend, but during NSO, many students find i texhausting. Some even find it alienating. It can be difficult to build meaningful connections while blindly chasing the Band all the way to FroSoCo.

Instead, NSO should be reconstituted as a small-group experience focused on helping students build personal connections, as opposed to inundating them with information and forced bonding. NSO should be a transition, not just an orientation.

Conveniently, the framework for this already exists. Pre-orientation programs like the Leland Scholars program, Stanford Pre-Orientation Trips (SPOT) and Stanford Summer Engineering Academy (SSEA) provide students with a smaller, more focused introduction to Stanford life. Each of these programs invites students to campus before NSO and connects them to a small group of classmates with common interests, as well as upperclassmen and faculty who can provide mentoring.

Stanford should expand these offerings to become a required part of orientation for all students. We propose converting NSO into a two-week program, but one centered around a small-group experience like those noted above. The University could offer a broad range of “courses” that students could select from based on their interests. Drawing on the successful structures of Sophomore College, Alternative Spring Break and SPOT, there could be academic, artistic, outdoors or community service focused courses, each with 10-15 students. These courses could be facilitated by upperclassman leaders and interested faculty.

During the current NSO, it can be difficult to identify like-minded students amidst the deluge of programming and large-group interaction. The Three Books program, for example, is intended to give students a common intellectual experience before arriving on the Farm. Some students may just leave the books in the envelope until they arrive on campus, but others are genuinely enthusiastic about the material. In the bustle of NSO, however, Three Books receives limited attention. Those students who want to further engage have trouble finding the outlets — the classmates or faculty — to do so.

Under our proposal, the first week of orientation for a student would be spent living and interacting with only his or her group, either on or off campus. Personal bonds would be formed more quickly and naturally on the foundation of common passions, thus avoiding the ad nauseum awkwardness of “Where are you from?” and “What are you going to major in?”

For the second week of orientation — what is currently constituted as NSO — students would move into their actual dormitories. The majority of their time would still be spent with the original course, but more traditional NSO programming such as FACES, Convocation and academic workshops would also be built into the schedule. The small-group experience would become a springboard to broader community bonding.

If Three Books became a pre-orientation course topic, it would provide the opportunity for the students most passionate about it to have a truly fulfilling shared intellectual experience based on the books, as opposed to one crammed into three evening hours on the third day of NSO. Others could apply for programs to discuss anything from nature to religion or literature, perhaps guided by their own version of Three Books.

For students who are looking for it, this would also help NSO serve as a genuine academic transition. Incoming students would begin to get an idea of how to manage their own schedule and handle coursework before it truly counts. As it stands now, the transition from the hand-holding of NSO to the reality of the academic year can be abrupt and unsettling.

But the academic component is just one opportunity provided by our proposal. The key aspect, and one that would be consistent across all courses, is the social touch-points it provides. Within our editorial board, those of us who participated in pre-orientation programs had markedly different (and far more positive) NSO experiences than those who did not. Students who participate in these programs have outlets to escape the tidal wave of high-energy, big-group activities that NSO can become. Allowing students to truly get to know each other in a more contained setting would help incoming students feel more immediately connected to campus, making NSO a more effective and realistic transition.

Contact the Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com

The Volume 246 Editorial Board is comprised of the senior staff of the opinions section and The Stanford Daily. It is chaired by Nick Ahamed '15, the managing editor of opinions, and Jana Persky '16, the editor in chief. Executive editor Joseph Beyda '15, opinions desk editor Mark Bessen '15 and former-managing editor of opinions Winston Shi '16, as well as columnists Aimee Trujillo '15 and Pepito Escarce '15, sit on the Editorial Board.

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