Castles: Here comes the START of a new school year

Photo illustration of incoming Freshman Brontë McKinnis using a laptop in her home town of Portland, Ore. After an all remote START experience, Brontë plans to pursue a degree in Engineering at OSU. 

Christine Castles, Columnist

In the past, START included a night spent in a dorm room, exploration around campus, and the ability to connect with others who are also starting in the fall. These activities have been lost and replaced with virtual ones.

Except there is no way to completely replace activities that are specifically designed to be in person. Part of the purpose of START is to allow students a taste of college, before they arrive, but this time they will arrive at something completely foreign.

Classes at Oregon State University in the fall are scheduled to be taught mostly with in-person instruction. However, START orientation, where students will have the opportunity to meet other first-year students, learn about the college and explore their careers paths, will still be held over Zoom. 

Every summer, freshmen and transfer students complete their START experience prior to attending OSU in the fall. There are eight START sessions running from late June to early September. 

Soon-to-be first-year chemical engineering student, Brontë McKinnis, said, “The flexibility is kind of nice with how they are doing it online.” 

This is one of the benefits that conducting matters online has always had, but as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, there are many downfalls. 

Students felt their mental health depleted long before the end of the last school year. The constant focus on a screen was draining, and now new students have just another zoom meeting to attend.

Like many of us, McKinnis said, “I’m not very good at meeting people over Zoom.” Luckily, there will be plenty of time to also make friends in the dorms and in classes. 

The once overnight affairs of START are being translated into a week-long session of required Zoom activities. These are designed to introduce students to the college and give them opportunities to speak to a START leader who can answer any questions they may have. 

Galena Wortman, who will be starting as a first-year zoology student in the fall, said her campus touring experience through the College of Science START “would have been better in person, but learning about all the majors in the College of Science was really nice to be online.”

In addition to the academic advising meeting and required session, there are also optional Zoom meetings to attend that provide more specific information about dining dollars, university resources and lots more. 

McKinnis went to a “Women in STEM” event and said, “They talked about a lot of opportunities, [such as] to like join clubs and stuff, so that’s kind of something that I am looking forward to.”

Additionally, Wortman said that compared to the required meetings, the optional ones taught her more.

One last essential step that freshmen must take is scheduling an appointment with their academic advisor in their program or college, after which they can register for classes.

Both Wortman and McKinnis are looking forward to this exciting part of starting their college careers.

At the same time, this year’s freshmen are in a unique position where, like the rest of the students, they are transitioning back to in-person instruction, but unlike the rest of the students, they are also transitioning into a completely different type of learning.

McKinnis said, “From high-school-type classes to college-type classes and then online to in person… it’s kind of a whole other thing.”

Perhaps having START in person would have eased this social whiplash, but beginning college is an exciting time and that positive energy can help to avoid any annoyance with online orientation.

Wortman said, “It’s scary… it’s going to be a big switch, but I mean, I’ll get back into it.”

By the beginning of the fall, it will have been a year and a half since instruction went all online, but just like Wortman, we will all get back into it.