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My Student Experience: Five NC State College of Education Students Share Their Experiences as Virtual Orientation Leaders During COVID-19

College of Education Orientation Leaders

This is part of a monthly “My Student Experience” series in which the NC State College of Education highlights the student experience through profiles, stories and videos.

Five students from the NC State College of Education served as orientation leaders through the Office of New Student Programs (NSP) for the 2020-21 academic year. Orientation leaders are undergraduate students who assist new students and their families with their transition into the NC State community and the Wolfpack family. They serve as resources, facilitators and official representatives of the university during orientation and transition programs.

Students who are interested in serving as orientation leaders must apply online and pass an individual and group interview before being accepted and invited to attend an NSP training.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced orientation leaders to transition orientation from an in-person event to an online experience, which had its challenges and made for different responsibilities. These five College of Education students share their experiences as virtual orientation leaders.

Storm Alexander

Storm Alexander ’23

Holly Springs/Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina
Middle Grades Science Education

For Storm Alexander ’23, NC State is a common theme among his family — his sister, dad and uncle all attended NC State. Alexander was raised a Wolfpack fan and attended many of the basketball games throughout his childhood. So when it came time to choose where to attend college, it was no surprise that he chose NC State.

“I chose education specifically because of the experiences I have had within my own schooling. I was lucky enough to have some amazing teachers, as well as some not so amazing teachers,” Alexander said. “I was able to see how much of a difference having an amazing and enthusiastic teacher really had on the class and how the best teachers often had a huge impact on their students. I wanted to have that same impact on students.”

When he attended orientation as a freshman, Alexander had such an impactful and fun experience, he wanted to provide that same experience for other incoming freshmen. He signed up to be notified when orientation leader applications were open, applied and was accepted.

Alexander served on the customer service team. When he wasn’t interacting with students or families in Zoom meetings, he was working a virtual help desk or answering questions from students and families about orientation through a text messaging service.

“Having to translate what we would have done in-person into an online format was challenging, as well as answering some of the tougher questions that students or families posed. It was also difficult to get some of the students to interact with one another or even us,” he said.

When he wasn’t working with customer service, Alexander’s responsibilities would vary. He would facilitate small groups, where he would talk to students about campus resources, academics or anything they had questions about. He would also work on the family panel, answering families’ questions or providing support during “college time,” which meant being on standby as different departments and colleges conducted presentations relevant to them.

As a future educator, Alexander says he learned some strategies for getting students more involved in activities as well as how to become resourceful. He also learned about planning, which he says can be translated into lesson plans, as they had to follow a facilitation guide.

“Being an orientation leader in the year 2020 was very unique, to say the least. It put into perspective how much work teachers had to put in to translate their lessons to a digital format during a pandemic as well as taught me a lot about being a leader,” he said. “I also made some unforgettable memories and really cherish my experience as an orientation leader.”

Meghan Enoch

Meghan Enoch ’22

Charlotte, North Carolina
Elementary Education

Meghan Enoch ’22 has always had a passion for working with children and helping others. She loves the energy that kids bring and their excitement about everything. But she also enjoys guiding and helping people in general. Going into education allows her to use both passions to make a difference in her community.

Becoming an orientation leader was perfect for Enoch because it fit with her desire to help and guide others. After attending orientation as a first-year student, she realized she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her orientation leader and help incoming students adjust to campus by sharing her experiences and providing resources.

“I also wanted to get more involved at NC State and I thought being an orientation leader was an awesome way to meet more peers at NC State and be part of an exciting team that is filled with different perspectives,” she said.

Each day, Enoch and her peers were given a work schedule which told them if they would be working with students or families. When she worked with students, she helped facilitate group discussions around how to maximize student success as a first-year or transfer student and what resources are available to them. She also worked with small groups within her team to create short, informative how-to videos to post on the New Student Programs’ Instagram page.

When she worked with families, she served on the family panel, where she would answer questions around student success, campus resources and her personal experiences.

“I had to let go of the ‘norm’ associated with being an orientation leader, more specifically, walking around campus in my uniform and meeting the incoming students and families in person,” Enoch said. “A new ‘norm’ was created, which consisted of Zoom team meetings, small group discussions with the students for about 45 minutes, answering questions on a virtual panel for family orientation and connecting with my team in a virtual way.”

Preparing to be an elementary school teacher, Enoch found that being an orientation leader helped her as a future educator in many ways. She gained experience working with a diverse group of individuals that were able to come together to work efficiently and cohesively. She also developed her communication and teamwork skills, which she will be able to use with her future coworkers and students.

“I’ve learned to multi-task different priorities at hand and this will help with my classroom management specifically. I also learned a lot more about Zoom through this experience — breakout rooms, chat functions, reaction buttons, screen sharing, you name it,” she said.

Even though orientation was forced to move to an online platform, Enoch says the Office of New Student Programs did an amazing job adapting orientation to be a virtual experience and she believes that they were still able to make an impact on the students and the families.

“Being an orientation leader is one of the most rewarding experiences that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It was such an amazing opportunity where I got to learn more about myself, others and NC State,” she said. “I was in an environment that supported my personal and professional growth. I would 10/10 recommend this opportunity to anybody.”

Dae Melvin

Dae Melvin ’23

Fayetteville, North Carolina
Middle Grades Mathematics Education

Dae Melvin ’23 came to NC State for the paper science and engineering program, but soon realized it wasn’t his calling. He discovered a passion for working with children and as an educator, he wants to ensure his students are heard, loved, supported and valued.

And Melvin feels that same way about incoming students at NC State. He had such a great experience during his orientation, he wanted to be able to give that same experience to the next class of incoming students, which is why he applied to be an orientation leader.

“I was kind of bummed that it was going to be virtual but it turned out to be super amazing. There were so many benefits to going virtual,” he said.

Instead of holding day-and-a-half long orientation sessions, orientation was compressed to four hours (1-5 p.m.). The orientation leaders would start every day with a staff meeting at 10 a.m., followed by team meetings at 11 a.m. and lunch at noon. Throughout orientation, the orientation leaders would hold 45-minute small group sessions, where they facilitated ice breakers, held a Q&A and provided important information for students. The rest of the time was spent assisting the departments and colleges with technical issues or reminding students to complete modules.

Melvin was placed on the Instagram Live Team, where he and another orientation leader would go live together or with a campus partner and answer questions from students and families. He went live three times and assisted with answering questions through the chat once.

He really enjoyed serving on the Instagram Live Team. His biggest challenge was not having much time to get to know the students in his groups. But because of that, Melvin was able to get to know the other orientation leaders and they were able to build a connection.

“We had many volleyball matches on Tucker-Owen Beach, late night food runs, movie nights and weekend fun. I even celebrated my birthday with them,” he said.

As a future middle school math teacher, Melvin says he learned a lot from this experience that he will carry with him into the classroom and in life.

“This experience has taught me so much — from navigating virtual spaces, making the best out of what you’re given and being very authentic in everything you do. When working in virtual settings, it’s hard for people to connect with you through a screen,” he said. “I learned to be open to ideas, to understand how everyone feels and make the right adjustments to fit everyone’s needs. Since then I’ve been true to myself and readily vulnerable in every space I enter, whether it’s virtual or in-person. And I’ve had nothing but good results.”

Anne Marie Mullis

Anne Marie Mullis ’22

Richfield, North Carolina
Secondary English Education

For Anne Marie Mullis ’22, teaching is in her blood. She comes from a family of educators, including her parents. But it was the influence of her aunt and uncle that convinced her to attend the NC State College of Education and pursue a career in English education.

“I chose NC State because I loved it the second I toured it. I chose the NC State College of Education because I knew it was a fantastic program for education, plus my aunt and uncle both graduated from NC State and are now wonderful teachers,” she said.

Mullis applied to be an orientation leader this year because she wanted to make new students feel welcome and less nervous about starting college at NC State. And she loves NC State and had a wonderful experience when she was a freshman and attended orientation.

As an orientation leader, Mullis led group discussions over Zoom, provided basic information that incoming freshmen needed to know and answered questions. She also served on the Instagram Live Team, where she was assigned certain evenings during the week to go live and answer questions that were sent in via chat by students.

“This experience was totally different from what I was expecting, but everyone worked together and we did our best to still make it a meaningful experience,” she said.

With orientation being virtual, Mullis said orientation leaders didn’t really get to know the students who were in their groups because they were only able to have a 45-minute session with them. Zoom burnout was also a challenge, Mullis says, because some days she was on her computer from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. And there was a learning curve for getting used to the dynamics of Zoom and the “awkward silence” that can sometimes follow when asking a discussion question.

Working with other leaders and interacting with new students each day is what Mullis enjoyed the most about her role. “This is what brightened my day the most because I was always looking forward to seeing them and answering their questions,” Mullis said.

“This experience has definitely prepared me to be ready to teach over Zoom if that is needed again and I feel more prepared to lead a large group discussion and work in unison with my co-workers,” she said.

London Tolson

London Tolson ’22

Garner, North Carolina
Technology, Engineering, and Design Education

Before London Tolson ’22 was accepted into NC State, she wanted to study some form of engineering. And with the help of her academic advisor and NC State’s exploratory studies program, she found the technology, engineering, and design education program.

“I realized the main things I liked about engineering could be found in the technology, engineering and design education major within the College of Education,” she said.

Being a Spring Connect student, Tolson felt that her experiences would be valuable to incoming students, which inspired her to apply to be an orientation leader. She wanted to help incoming students by sharing how she found her sense of confidence on campus and managed to adjust to being in college. Tolson also wanted to gain leadership skills.

“I want the students I lead to see me as a resource they can use if they ever need someone to speak with,” she said. “I also feel that I have gotten so many opportunities here at NC State and this was my contribution to the community.”

Tolson’s main responsibilities were helping to facilitate small groups of first-year or transfer students with a team of other orientation leaders, creating content for IGTV, answering questions from students and families via email and attending orientation sessions for different colleges as Zoom tech support and to offer a student perspective.

Some of the challenges she faced with the virtual platform were not being able to interact in-person with the students and parents, causing a slight disconnect between them, Zoom connectivity issues among the participants and not being able to provide campus tours.

One of the things Tolson enjoyed most about being an orientation leader was getting to share her experiences as a new student with incoming students. She remembers how comforting it was to have her orientation leader share their personal story with her and how it eased the stress of her transition to the university. And she enjoyed working with the orientation team.

“I think this position helped me grow as a leader and taught me more about programs and organizations that NC State offers,” she said. “This experience has given me a lot of practice with public speaking and helped me be more confident in answering questions on the spot. This experience also taught me how to facilitate conversations with different size groups of people.”

As a future instructor in a STEM field, Tolson hopes to use what she learned from this experience to facilitate future classes that she may teach.