The Center for the First Year Experience, located on Park Street, plays a role in some of the programs offered at SOAR.[/media-credit]

After two years of reviewing orientation programming for incoming University of Wisconsin students, UW is changing the first-year registration program to give students more time to pick classes and get advising before they start off their first semester on campus.

While the majority of the changes to the Student Orientation, Advising and Registration will focus on advising and scheduling issues, minor adjustments will also be made to the program’s parent and guest programs, health and safety information as well as placement exams, said Wren Singer, director of the Center for the First Year Experience.

“A lot of the feedback we get from students on SOAR is that they wish they had more time on course selection, that they feel rushed and it’s stressful,” Singer said. “And our goal is to spread it out, and then they have more time to talk to their parents as well.”

In the past, SOAR participants met with their advisers on the second day of orientation. Advising and enrollment will now span for two days to give students an opportunity to consider registration more and discuss options with their parents, she said.

She added advising would still include both individual and group advising sessions. Transfer students will have more time to meet individually with an adviser to discuss transfer academic needs.

Changes to SOAR

” Prices may decrease

” More time devoted to advising

” Earlier placement testing

” Health & safety orientation moved to academic year

Associate Dean Kevin Helmkamp said the advising changes are intended to improve the student experience at orientation. He added an extensive review of the SOAR program has been underway for about two years and included University Housing and advising departments across campus.

Cross-College Advising Services Assistant Director Becky Ryan said advisers are aware of the changes to SOAR and are currently determining how best to implement the new advising procedures to help new students.

“Basically all the details are being worked out as we speak,” Ryan said. “We are excited about it, and we are really interested in doing it a different way and think[ing] more clearly about how we satisfy those needs.”

Singer added the costs to the SOAR program will not increase due to these changes, and in some cases are expected to decrease.

CFYE Assistant Director Carren Martin said placement exams would also be offered at various UW campuses before orientation begins, giving new students more options to take exams and the ability to travel to a campus closer to home before they meet their advisers in Madison.

Martin added the parent and guest information would move to focus more on the transition for new students from home to college, rather than the detailed information they received in the past, which Visitor and Information Programs can provide.

Health and safety portions of orientation will also be directed to Welcome Week activities, when students have moved on campus and the information is more meaningful for them, Singer said.

“The results of the review showed students were not remembering much on the health and safety portions of orientation,” Martin said. “So they received a lot of that information, but couldn’t remember all the details. We thought it would help if students … talked about that once back on campus.”

A pilot of this new program was conducted this past fall in Sellery Hall for freshman. According to Singer, the program was fairly successful and will continue for next year’s Welcome Week program with a few possible tweaks.

Freshman also experienced a new and revamped Chancellor’s Convocation, which put a greater emphasis on the academic legacy at UW and was intended to serve as a bookend to graduation, Martin said. Faculty wore their academic robes to mark the occasion.

Ryan added the SOAR program will be more innovative and creative because students will have more responsibility in choosing courses with their adviser.

The model for SOAR has remained essentially the same for the 17 years she has worked at UW, she said, and she believes the changes will benefit students as they transition to college.

“I think anytime a big change is made it forces everybody to review why we do what we do … and how it’s working,” Ryan said. “In any change there’s always a few people wondering why it’s changing, but we’re ready and willing to try doing this a different way.”