OSU-Cascades START orientation sessions remain virtual

An illustration of some of what Bend, Ore. has to offer its Oregon State Cascades students. After seven terms of remote teaching and learning, the OSU Cascades campus is looking forward to welcoming back in person studies.

Quentin Comus, OSU-Cascades Beat Reporter

Oregon State University’s Cascades campus has begun onboarding students through their virtual START programs in anticipation for a mostly traditional college experience starting this fall.

After more than 18 months of reduced in-person activities and services, OSU-Cascades is preparing to welcome its first completely in-person class of incoming students since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While classes, research, extracurricular activities and offices on the Bend, Ore. campus will return to mostly normal operations this fall, new student orientation programs will remain virtual for now, said OSU-Cascades Director of Admissions Brittany Preston.

“OSU-Cascades START orientation sessions are now underway for incoming students and are primarily virtual, but [they are] preparing students for an in-person experience in fall,” Preston said.

OSU-Cascades conducts a similar orientation experience to those offered by OSU’s main campus in Corvallis, Ore., which includes a combination of social events, advising appointments, registration and information sessions and welcome messages.

“As part of START, academic advisors meet with incoming students beginning mid-July,” Preston said. “The virtual advising sessions focus on preparing students for their class experience this fall and ready them to dive into being college students in Bend.”

According to Preston, new students will also complete placement testing and online orientation modules that introduce students to support services and platforms used to register for courses, access course documents, submit assignments, order textbooks and more.

While these orientation programs are still being offered virtually amidst lingering public health concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s START Orientation sessions will feature enhancements that promote the resumption of an in-person

college experience.

“The OSU-Cascades Admissions Office staff is working closely with the academic department and advising staff to make sure students move carefully through the START Orientations so that they are ready to be on campus in fall,” Preston said. “Steps are in place to help students prepare for campus and academic life as well as residential life and resumption of in-person campus activities. This September presents a remarkable and exciting opportunity for the OSU-Cascades and Bend communities to welcome students back to a safer, fully functioning and

lively campus.

Students who complete their START orientation session will have the opportunity to participate in additional in-person onboarding activities such as Headwaters—where new students participate in outdoor trips throughout central Oregon—and OSU’s traditional Welcome Week new student experience.

“The Student Success team is right now planning Welcome Week activities, the annual Headwaters Trip that takes our newest students into the outdoors for recreation and adventure and activities that will help new students ease into residential life this September,” Executive Director of Student Success Jane Reynolds said. “We’re confident they’ll help set students up for success in their first year at OSU-Cascades.”

Details regarding these in-person events will be released later this summer, but all of them will follow appropriate public health guidelines, Reynolds said.

The resumption of in-person orientation activities and university operations comes as enrollment at the Bend campus continues to grow in contrast to other Oregon universities.

Last year, even amidst the coronavirus pandemic, OSU-Cascades saw a record 27% increase in first-year student enrollment and a 16% increase in transfer student enrollment for an overall increase of about 66 students or 4.8%, according to a November 10 press release. 

Meanwhile, OSU’s Corvallis, Ore. campus recorded a 3.8% enrollment decrease—losing a total of 937 students. Likewise, the University of Oregon’s Eugene, Ore. campus lost 815 students for a 3.6% enrollment decrease.

While it’s too early to confirm enrollment numbers for fall, OSU-Cascades is poised to see its largest class of incoming students yet.

“It’s still early to confirm student enrollment numbers for fall,” Reynolds said. “But I can share that we anticipate about half of our new undergraduate students will be first-year students and about half will be transfer students. We’ll also see new graduate students on campus, and with our new Doctor of Physical Therapy program launching this fall, we’re excited to welcome OSU-Cascades’s first-ever doctoral students, too.”

In addition to offering new and expanded academic programs, Preston said OSU-Cascades is catching the eye of new students thanks to the amenities that central Oregon has to offer.

“OSU-Cascades continues to grow because more and more students are becoming aware of the unique opportunities at the Bend campus and in the surrounding region,” Preston said. “The combination of getting a great education, a vibrant close-knit campus community and a destination location are a powerful draw for students not only throughout Oregon but from around [the] country as well.”

While university leaders draw near to the end of this year’s admission cycle, they admitted it hasn’t been easy to recruit new students to attend college in Bend.

“OSU-Cascades is facing and addressing the same enrollment headwinds other colleges and universities face including a competitive admissions environment, uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 variants and individuals still recovering from the long-term impacts of the pandemic, both financially as well as emotionally,” Preston said. “As we work one-on-one with students and families, we’re continuing to support them with any concerns they have around next steps to officially enroll, financial barriers and any other challenges students face embarking on their new adventure of college life.”

Nonetheless, OSU-Cascades is ready to welcome their new and potentially largest incoming class of first-year and transfer students, Preston said.

“OSU-Cascades is positioned to assist and support students in their transition to campus in a positive and supportive way. We are thrilled to welcome new and returning students back to campus at the start of the fall term.”