The University of Maine’s flagship campus in Orono will hold new student orientations virtually this summer, and other state universities also are adjusting their orientation plans in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The University of Maine, which typically holds new student orientations the last week of June, made the announcement to students this week following guidance from Gov. Janet Mills that calls for continued restrictions on large gatherings through the summer and a 14-day quarantine for people coming into the state.

“It just seemed like with the way everything is going right now, not just in the state but across the country (it made sense),” said Chris Richards, interim vice president of enrollment management at the University of Maine. “We had been building plans in-house to go virtual and were kind of just weighing all the factors before making that decision.”

Other campuses in the University of Maine System also have made contingency plans for orientation, though some that have August orientations are still planning on holding them in person.

The University of Southern Maine has a three-part new student orientation that starts in April with a course for new students that has been done online the past few years, said Anna Schwartz, director of orientation and transitional programs.

Students then participate in one-on-one meetings with academic advisers, which have been shifted to an online platform this year. USM is developing two sets of plans for traditional welcome events that take place in August in case in-person events cannot happen.

“We’re very fortunate our process has had those two components that we are able to do completely remotely and that the fun part of orientation, which is something that happens closer to the start of school, we will work on adapting that part closer to the start of school if necessary,” Schwartz said.

The University of Maine at Farmington, which typically holds orientation the weekend before classes start each semester, is moving many components online but also is planning for traditional academic and social activities to take place in late August, said Christine Wilson, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management.

The University of Maine at Fort Kent is intending for orientation to be in person, but also is planning for a virtual orientation, while the University of Maine at Augusta is still planning to hold on-campus orientations in August.

The Augusta campus has for years also offered a completely online orientation for students who are at a distance or who prefer online learning, and that campus will continue to offer that option as well, university system spokesman Dan Demeritt said in an email Friday.

The University of Maine System has said it plans to welcome students back in-person this fall and last month announced the formation of a Fall 2020 Safe Return Planning Committee to develop plans and protocols for a safe return to campuses.

“Our universities will engage our incoming students and their families this summer with virtual orientation events to prepare for the start of the fall semester in keeping with the guidance from Governor Mills,” said Robert Placido, vice chancellor of academic affairs for the system and co-chair of the committee.

“Our Fall 2020 Safe Return Planning Committee is working on how to accommodate late summer activities on the campuses in advance of a return to campus-based instruction for the fall semester.”

The University of Maine is setting up an orientation website that will provide the same information for parents and students that they would get in person at the June sessions, including commonly asked questions, live sessions, and opportunities to connect with current students and administrators.

“The situation is what it is,” Richards said. “We’re accepting it and we’re moving forward. We’re excited. We have a competitive looking class coming in and we’re looking forward to welcoming them in whatever mode the public health dynamic requires us to do.”

 


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