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Even through a screen, students say online Jump Start allowed for personal connection

Orientation program Jump Start was held virtually this year from August 31 to September 4, to generally positive reviews from students who took part.

Amandeep Breen, senior director of student engagement for the Vice-President Students wrote that virtual Jump Start was a “historic moment” for UBC in a press release.

“This year marks the first time that orientation will be offered entirely online,” Breen said in the release. “Shifting to virtual orientation in response to the COVID-19 allows us to ensure the safety of our students while still offering an exciting opportunity for students to connect with one another, faculty and staff, from wherever they are in the world.”

But with socializing being such a key part of Jump Start, both students and Orientation Leaders initially wondered if participants would be able to connect online.

Senior Orientation Leader Isabella Montecalvo said that going into it, she thought Jump Start would be “awful” this year.

“I didn’t think [students would] want to engage. I thought they were going to all leave after the first day,” she said.

Laura Gomes, a first-year engineering student, said she was initially “taken aback” by the online orientation. “There were 30 people in the Zoom call and of course, it’s really hard to talk to 30 people at once,” Gomes said.

Nevertheless, the program was adapted to make more personal interactions possible by incorporating the use of Zoom breakout groups, games like Skribbl.io, Codenames and Boggle, as well as rounds of “speed-dating.”

“We did Zoom breakout groups a lot because I [felt] as though students [were] going to make better connections if you put them into smaller groups,” said Montecalvo.

On student engagement throughout the program, Montecalvo said she was “blown away.”

“Students had their cameras on and were very engaged …. There was one time when I was facilitating a session and the students enjoyed it so much that they stayed even after the time had ended.”

Students The Ubyssey spoke to said they were satisfied with the program.

“I was pretty happy with the experience overall. I was able to meet a lot of people and make friends in my Learning Community,” said first-year engineering student Fatima Mushtaq.

Gomes agreed. “Even though I was just staring at a screen, I felt like there was an effort made by the university and the orientation team to ensure that everybody would have a great experience,” she said.

However, online Jump Start itself presented some unique flaws.

“There were some connection issues. Maybe they were on my end but the internet connection wasn’t the best all the time,” said Mushtaq. “Sometimes, time management wasn’t adapted to online Jump Start because over Zoom, everything takes a lot longer …. Just getting people to mute or unmute their mic and start talking can take time.”

Regardless, Montecalvo emphasized Jump Start’s importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is being extended to the rest of the school year in the form of Virtual Collegia and Virtual Indigenous Students’ Collegium. Orientation leaders will check in with students every month and organize group Zoom sessions throughout the term.

“There were a high number of students who continued to attend online Jump Start because I think they realized this is a good opportunity to make friends. You can’t really bump into anyone in classes anymore or make spontaneous plans,” Montecalvo said. “So I think Jump Start was really important as a substitute for that.”

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