The University of New Mexico’s New Student Orientation (NSO) is officially transferring to an online format. 

In a continuing effort to mitigate the potential effect of COVID-19 on UNM students, NSO Director Jose Villar developed an online orientation program for specific groups that has since been extended to all incoming students.

According to Villar, he and his team “are committed to doing their part to flatten the curve.” 

Coined “NSO...To-Go,” the online orientation will feature live presentations, Q&A panels, webinars and virtual help sessions, among other events. Villar said familiar NSO-specific activities, such as the annual completion of The Grey Area talk and academic advisement and registration, will also be conducted in a remote format. 

Furthermore, the Family Connection aspect of the orientation — in which parents are encouraged to ask questions to help their student’s academic and social transition — will be maintained in an online fashion.

During orientation, each student will be sent an itinerary with hyperlinks indicating all resources needed during and after the orientation process. 

Advisement will require several online endeavors — including an online course giving an overview of advisement, advising sessions accomplished via Skype or Zoom platforms and group registration accomplished through a video conference format. As always, course registration will only be allowed post-Advisement and as a final orientation activity according to Villar. 

Registration is still paramount despite the changing format of NSO and reduced fees. Villar said each orientation session will attempt to continue its ability to connect students to their peers, orientation leaders and campus resources. Villar said this goal is best accomplished with a balanced number of registrants per session.

Zerrick Plake, a sophomore majoring in business administration and a second-year NSO leader, said he and his fellow leaders will be rigorously trained on how to navigate orientation in an online setting, including how to set up Zoom sessions and how to best interact with their respective students throughout the summer. This debriefing will occur in addition to their regular training involving Safe Zone, the Grey Area and Diversity and Inclusivity. 

Plake acknowledged that while the new format will present some challenges, it will also strengthen communication with incoming students. 

“One way I believe this summer will be strong is opening up the whole summer to speaking with students, including weekly Zoom calls and emailing whenever necessary,” he said. “I believe this will help students feel more like a part of the pack and connected to the university.”

For incoming students, a prominent difference from previous years will be their inability to stay in the dormitories and explore UNM’s campus resources — like the location of facilities and dining options — firsthand. 

In conjunction with a steady decline in UNM enrollment, NSO registrations are down 21% this year, according to Enrollment Vice President Dan Garcia.

Despite these shortcomings, Plake said he believes NSO will still be a vital tool for students and their parents. 

“As an incoming freshman, it is always scary to start at a big university like UNM, but I believe NSO helps soften this blow by giving students an idea of what they will be experiencing,” he said. “Abandoning orientation entirely would create a huge rift between students and the university and would force these students to enter UNM with more questions than they would have had.”

Plake said he happily represents UNM through NSO and is looking forward to helping students throughout the summer in newer, innovative ways.

The possibility has been raised that NSO leaders may not be working at all. 

In an email correspondence with the Daily Lobo, NSO leader Edgar Corona Castañeda said, “Last I spoke with NSO supervisors, they were unsure if they would be able to hire us given the new format, and I have not heard from them since.”

However, this information remains unconfirmed, as NSO officials have not given a definitive response at this time.