First Year program coordinator Dave Lauer said SOAR will be partnering with First Way to address issues beyond academics at the program. A focus on individualized advising time is another focus of the changes.[/media-credit]

University of Wisconsin officials expressed early optimism about changes incoming students can expect for this summer’s Student Orientation, Advising and Registration program at a recent forum, including placement testing alterations and a revamped advising schedule.

About 50 members of the UW community gathered Thursday for the third session of the SOAR Update Forum series held by the core-planning team of the Center for the First-Year Experience. Prompted by student focus groups and research evaluations, the sessions focus on presenting the upcoming pilot changes to SOAR, CFYE Co-interim Director Carren Martin said.

The changes, applied first in late 2011 and now into 2012, begin with the SOAR reservation process and placement testing. Although fundamentally the same, SOAR reservations must now be made at least one week out from placement testing dates, Chris Verhaeghe, coordinator of Orientation Advising and Operations, said.

In addition to placement testing no longer being conducted at SOAR, a computer-based testing service will be provided with an additional fee, Martin said. However, she said the piloted computer program has not been receiving as much interest as expected.

“The computer-based testing demand is a little slower than we thought it would be,” Martin said. “There is really nothing to compare it to, so it will be an interesting test case to see how many students really do prefer that option.”

SOAR attendance will still be permitted for those students who fail to follow the new reservation-testing policy. However, the lack of placement scores will impact enrolling for classes, Verhaeghe said.

Drawing from regional reservation statistics, Martin said she finds that the new system is working.

“Updates from regional testing indicates that reservations for this time of year are up right now, so it appears that people are getting the message that they need to do this early,” Martin said.

Along with the reservation and placement test changes, issues stemming from SOAR schedules are also being addressed, Martin said.

According to Annette McDaniel, assistant dean and founder of the Transfer Transition Program, the new schedule is meant to enhance the welcoming experience of SOAR.

“It will bring more fanfare, more pomp and circumstance, and more welcome for the start of SOAR,” McDaniel said. “More excitement and flare to celebrate their joining of the Badger community.”

McDaniel also noted the new schedule for transfer students’ SOAR is aimed at setting out a clear expectation that incoming students will have individualized advising time.

According to Cross College Career Advisor Diana Maki, the new freshmen scheduling changes will emulate the transfer program, including a change from one advising day to both days.

“Similar to transfer sessions, we want this to be more student-driven, more active, more engaging and to encourage thinking about what the Wisconsin experience means,” Maki said.

First Year Program Coordinator Dave Lauer also said the SOAR program will partner with the campus spoken word and hip hop learning community First Wave to address greater issues involving students’ personal relationship with academics and school life.

CYFE Student Program Intern and UW senior Caitlin Riegert said she finds the scheduling changes will not only be beneficial for educating students, parents and guests, but will also remove the rush and stresses of the SOAR advising process.