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Frosh weeks move (mostly) online in the age of COVID

Here's what post-secondary institutions in HRM are doing for orientation.

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Equipped with masks and hand sanitizer, King's welcome week staff are ready for 2020 students. - BILL LAHEY TWITTER
  • Bill Lahey Twitter
  • Equipped with masks and hand sanitizer, King's welcome week staff are ready for 2020 students.

On Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced that all students returning to Nova Scotia from outside the Atlantic bubble for school will need to receive three negative COVID-19 test results before heading to any in-person events on campus.

This applies to both students in residence and living off-campus.

"If students are asymptomatic, these tests should help us detect COVID. This will also enable institutions and Public Health to respond quickly if the virus is found,” McNeil told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

On top of that, students must self-isolate for two weeks even if they receive a negative result. They’ll be holed up in quarantine dorms or their tiny, overpriced south end apartments, getting take-out or (if they’re lucky) food provided by the university, and probably binging Netflix.

Since many students return to classes September 8, and start orientation a few days before that, they’re arriving back in the city right about…now.

Welcome back to school, Halifax. Here's what frosh weeks look like in the age of COVID-19.

Dalhousie University

The largest university in Halifax typically welcomes 19,000 students to its campus each year. Normally 2,600 of those students live in residence, and this year those students who are coming from outside the Atlantic bubble will move in on August 22 to begin their two-week isolation period.

“They’re isolating for two weeks…staying in a residence where they have food sent to their rooms, they’re very very cautious with specific move-in times. It’s a real dreary experience I’m sure for those new students, especially the international students,” says Jad Ghiz, Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) Vice President of Student Life.

He tells The Coast that in-person events won’t begin until September 5, when each student has waited out the virus’ 14-day incubation period.

Then, students will move into their regular dorms and begin meeting other students on their floor. But they won’t be able to go far, as all in-person o-week events will be based on residence teams.

“A thousand students are going to be in residence, we don’t want all 1,000 students just running into a field at the same time. So we’re going to spread kids out, we’re adding up the team’s points,” says Ghiz. The residence team with the most points will win a prize.

For smaller events, students will be bubbled up in groups with their residences, and each bubble will have a separate time slot for activities.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can to be there for the students while making sure that we’re protecting their health, which is a tough line to balance,” Ghiz says.

Frosh week’s larger event capacity is limited by numbers due to the current Nova Scotia regulations, which means no more than 250 students are allowed at a time at outdoor concerts, events like movie night in the quad, socially distanced yoga, and the Dreaming in Colour artist showcase.

“Any first-year student can register in advance, we just have a capacity that we have to maintain. You’ll have sort of like a bracelet to make sure that you’re one of the students that registered,” says Ghiz.

For more information, visit www.dsu.ca/o-week. General admission passes are $50.

Dalhousie is also hosting online events including things like a Brightspace orientation and a program called Together@Dal, which are hosted by the university administration rather than the DSU.

Saint Mary’s University

In typical years SMU orientation would kick off with a busy week of activities, games and late-night events on campus. But this year everything has moved online.

“Normally everything’s super-condensed and you’re sort of moving students from event to event to event and they get really tired,” says Lindsay Anderson, SMU Assistant Director of Student Culture and Experience.

She tells The Coast that the move to a digital format has allowed students to spread out their orientation to SMU, over an almost two month period.

“We actually started our kickoff welcome week event was in the summer, July 17, and then since that time we’ve been running events on a weekly basis and we’ll run them all the way through to mid-September,” Anderson says.

The events are divided into two categories: summer workshops for getting information, and summer meetups for getting to know each other.

“The social events have been incredible. Like the students will throw their cameras on, they’ll engage in team builders, they are really seeking that opportunity to kind of see each other and get to know students before they even start their classes in the fall,” says Anderson.

While some students at SMU will be living on campus this year, the resources allow their students from all over the world to participate, something they hope to make long-term.

“Let’s say next year we are back to in-person operations hopefully, we’re still going to do some of these online offerings,” says Anderson. “Because it’s allowing our students from around the world, which we have many from all over the place, it allows them to tune in and not have to be present here and living here in the summer which I think is a really good opportunity.”

For more information, visit the smu.ca/newtosmu.

Nova Scotia Community College

Although the exact activities vary from campus to campus, NSCC welcome week programming for this year is all online.

“It’s part of a program that we have called Get Started, and so each campus welcomes you and you get to meet the campus staff, learn about supports and services that are available. Really, it’s a great opportunity for students to ask questions and learn about what they need to do to get ready for September,” says Noel MacDonald, NSCC Manager for Signature Events and Service.

NSCC is the only institution hosting some classes partially in-person, but the events from September 8 to 11 are focused on learning how to use Brightspace and getting acquainted with faculty and staff. “Program meet and greets are a big one for us, so really early on in the first days, students can virtually meet with classmates and meet with their instructors so that they can, not just learn about the year ahead but also get to know one another,” says MacDonald.

At the Dartmouth campuses, events like trivia, guest speakers, and a Friday night livestreamed concert will allow students to build community.

“They normally have giveaways for their students, sometimes they would have activities and games and things like that,” says MacDonald. “Student elections are a big priority for them at this point in the year too, so getting students involved or letting them know that they can get involved in student leadership opportunities early on.”

For more information visit nscc.ca/orientation or nscc.ca/welcomeback.

University of King’s College

King’s will host an entirely online orientation week this year in the hopes of being able to include students who can’t make it back to Halifax.

“A big thing that we were considering when deciding to go virtually was also the fact that we want all students to be included even if they’re off-campus or even if they’re out of province. We want them to have access to our programming,” says King’s Student Union (KSU) President Levi Clarkson.

Clarkson tells The Coast that although they were KSU president last year as well, previous experience wasn’t much help when planning an online o-week.

“This year the timelines have kind of gone out the window because we have to like change the order in which we’re doing things and totally refigure logistics, and even just trying to do research about finding online platforms to be able to host all this content,” they say.

King’s biggest campus welcome events won’t happen this year. “A lot of the big events during orientation week when it’s in person are kind of late-night events in the Wardroom which is the campus bar. And big events during the day as well usually out in the quad. We have our yurt night concert on the Friday typically where local bands play,” says Clarkson.

Instead, the theme of this year’s orientation is “plugged in,” encouraging students to stay connected to their community even if they’re not physically on campus.

“All of our live content is going to be recorded and put on a website for students to access. We want students to be able to engage in o-week events at their own pace. A lot of our programming has the same vibe as other years, lots of collaboration with student societies, like the Day Students Society, the Racialized Students Collective, the King’s Pride Society,” says Clarkson.

And on top of that, the King’s community is prioritizing students taking care of themselves during the pandemic.

“We’re going to be posting playlists and Netflix recommendations for students, a virtual care package with all sorts of mental health resources and other supports and services that are available to students, as well as a community care at a distance workshop that’s going to be put on by the King’s equity officer.”

For more information visit ukings.ca/events/.

Mount Saint Vincent University

Online orientation at the Bedford university will begin September 8, with live online sessions like a president's welcome and department meet and greets hosted through platforms like Blackboard and Microsoft Teams.

MSVU student Grace Anderson is one of six Mount Mentors, who are available to answer questions for incoming students.

“This year we’ve had quite a few responses to emails we’ve sent out and people just asking questions and wanting to know what’s happening and how the school year is going to work and just trying to get to know like what to do, are there events. So, they come to us if they don’t know who to ask these questions to,” she tells The Coast.

About 100 students will return to campus residence on September 6 and 7, but all welcome week programming will be online.

“It’s organized by the student union, and they’re still putting together online sessions, like games and just getting to know people and meet friends at the Mount,” says Anderson.

In place of extra-curriculars in their departments, this year MSVU first year students are able to join any of the six online communities they’re interested in: Creativity and creative expressions, transfer student, leadership and community engagement, global citizenship, health and wellness and sustainability.

So far 115 first-year students have already signed up.

“Normally they would do tours and we’d bring students up into, we put an art group together and a sciences group, a nutrition group, et cetera, and they get toured around and then they go into a room and the dean of those departments actually come in and talk to them and get to know everyone, just have conversations,” Anderson says. “I know the deans and the faculty they still really want to do that, so they’re hosting peer-led sessions online this year.”

All first year students are also required to take the Mount 101 program with online learning platform Moodle, which is required for all first-years and also provides online modules for students to complete.

“A lot of universities now are making a system kind of like that to make it easier for new students coming in, but this is our third year doing it which is helpful because there’s been a lot of challenges,” says Anderson.

For more information visit the MSVU website.

Nova Scotia College of Art & Design

The arts university is typically home to very hands-on programs, as well as a welcome week that gets students acquainted with the campus and Halifax’s downtown.

“This year, of course, all that is going to be virtual. We have a virtual orientation planned with a welcome, with introductions, and even a virtual tour of the three campuses as well, trying to create that sense of community, inclusion and belonging,” says Martine Durier-Copp, NSCAD's Academic Dean.

The welcome back programming, which kicks off September 4, is led by SUNSCAD, the student union.

“It’ll be like a big town hall where they’ll be welcomed officially by senior administration, by student services, by their student union executives,” Durier-Copp tells The Coast.

NSCSAD has fully moved classes online this year via digital platform Brightspace.

“It’s not what people wanted, especially art and design students, but it’s the reality we have to work in and we’re trying to make it as close to face to face through the digital meeting as we possibly can,” says Durier-Copp.

Durier-Copp says while they're worried about classes, NSCAD administration are glad they don't have the added stress of re-opening residences since NSCAD doesn't have any.

"Of course there’s students returning to Halifax, but they don’t have to. With their online programs, they can be anywhere in the world," she says.

But the dean says the majority of the summer has gone into planning how to move classes online, and a group of summer students finished up the first batch of online courses this week.

“The feedback we got from those students was very very positive. Some of them said they absolutely loved the online experience, they would do it again. So we’re encouraged by that,” Durier-Copp says. “Everything is nicely organized on Brightspace for students, it’s really a one-stop-shop where they get all the information, all the training, all the resources that they need in a very clear space that they can access right away,” she adds.

For more information on events and recordings of previous student info sessions, visit my.nscad.ca/events/index.do.


Editor's note: As with everything during the COVID-19 pandemic, details are subject to change. If you notice something on this guide that's out of date let us know.

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