By: Marybeth Heeder, Director, Academic Orientation and Transitions Office
This year the Academic Orientation Program (AOP) celebrates its 65thanniversary. MSU has promoted student success and in the mid-1940’s Michigan State College (MSC), our name at the time, housed the largest number of students in the world. Many of these students chose to take advantage of obtaining a college education after World War II. Our school’s President at the time, John Hannah, realized that entering students needed more support if they were to achieve student success. In 1953 Michigan State was the first institution of higher education in the nation to create a formal summer orientation program – AOP.
While many faculty, staff, and students look forward to summer when they can catch their breath before the start of the busy academic year, the Academic Orientation and Transitions (AOT) staff along with several hundred faculty, academic advisors, staff and current MSU students are introducing the largest number of entering students along with their parents and family members to the transition from high school to college. Each day, close to 400 students attend their Academic Orientation Program (AOP) where they learn about their roles as scholars and members of an intellectual community with expectations to respect differing ideas and perspectives. As students engage in their first formal college learning experience, they begin to develop habits of the mind – a framework for success – including curiosity, engagement, persistence, responsibility, metacognition, and inclusion that will guide and influence their lives.
Over half a century later, student success geared towards all students, continues to be part of MSU’s vision. The AOT staff works collaboratively with colleagues, the colleges and student support units across campus to improve student learning, persistence, graduation rates and time-to-degree. Strategies evident in our work include focusing on incoming students as scholars; using a tool – The Spartan Seven: make connections, stretch yourself, learn from difference, fail forward, commit to respect, take time to reflect, discover your purpose – to send students a consistent, clear message that reflects MSU’s values and aligns with behaviors that support student success; teaching through story pedagogy; modeling passion for supporting students as they engage in their undergraduate education.
This past year to commemorate our commitment to student success, faculty, staff, students shared their gifts and created a gift that students receive when they attend AOP. Side-by-Side: Everything About What It Means To Be Human, is a collection of stories about the college transition. While reading the stories in this book, students come to understand that the college transition is a major life transition – one that is exciting and fun, but also one that is challenging and at times overwhelming. Most importantly, students learn that there is always someone at their sides to guide and support them as they navigate the realities of the college transition.
To encourage students to think about their goals, learning plans, passions and purposes and to affirm and confirm that they belong at MSU, while they are at AOP students are asked to write what they WILL do to leave their Spartan footprint on our campus, the nation, the world. We take their thoughts, hopes, and aspirations, such as “I will spread kindness and joy to the people I encounter daily. You never know who is having a rough day” and “I will make MSU my second home where I am proud to say, ‘I went there’”, and create a short video presentation that airs during Fall Convocation in the Breslin Center.
During AOP within a ‘classroom without walls’ our newest Spartans have an opportunity to ask questions, share stories, student transition tips, and make connections while learning about what it means to be a Spartan. They are invited to donate food to the MSU Student Food Bank; make fleece blankets for students who come from warm geographic regions and do not have resources for blankets; make teal ribbons for the GoTeal Campaign; make welcome cards for our newest international students.
AOP is commonly linked with incoming students; many current MSU students, however, benefit from the often overlooked support they receive beyond the first year. A student who worked for the AOT Office shared the following thought.
“One of the most monumental events throughout the duration of a student’s time at MSU is their Academic Orientation Program…My favorite part of being an [AOP] group leader was leading a small group in a diversity discussion. It highlighted how we all stereotype people and the importance of recognizing this in order to overcome it. I loved how the concepts I was teaching these freshmen coincided with an anthropology class I had taken.”
Other students share that helping students and their parents/family members during the Parent Orientation Program (POP) “changed my life.”While much has changed since the first AOP in 1953, what can appear ordinary and what creates ‘sticky memories’ that students recall long after they check out of the program has not – MSU Cares.