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Typically, Penn marks the beginning of the school year for first-year and transfer students with Convocation, in front of College Hall.

Credit: Chase Sutton

New Student Orientation and Convocation, staples of the first-year Penn experience, will be conducted entirely online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Convocation, an annual ceremony that formally welcomes each undergraduate class to Penn, will be a virtual event for incoming first-year and transfer students in order to keep the University community safe, Vice President and University Secretary Medha Narvekar wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian on July 21. More details will be announced in the coming weeks, the email read. 

"While necessarily different from previous years, we want to celebrate this moment with the newest members of the Penn family,” Narvekar wrote.

David Fox, director of NSO and the Penn Reading Project, said Convocation may be run in a similar form to the Class of 2020's virtual commencement this spring. The commencement event featured a number of speeches, musical performances, and pre-recorded videos.

Penn previously announced on June 25 that NSO, the week-long orientation program for all first-year and transfer students, would be held predominantly online this year with virtual activities available from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31.

Fox said most specifics regarding NSO programming are currently “in development," but all online aspects of NSO will be held primarily through the designated Thrive at Penn modules on Canvas, the University-wide online learning platform. As conducted in the past, TAP modules will function as a mandatory pre-orientation course incoming first-year students participate in before the fall semester begins. 

Credit: Ananya Chandra

All online aspects of NSO will be held primarily through Thrive At Penn modules.

“We are trying to seamlessly blend [NSO and TAP] using that Thrive at Penn model and the Canvas platforms. We’re rethinking it from the ground up,” Fox said.

Fox said NSO may feature a mix of synchronous and asynchronous programming this year, though he believes the majority will be conducted asynchronously so that NSO is easily accessible for incoming students across various time zones.

First-year and transfer students will also have two new opportunities to participate in Zoom preceptorial and Discover Penn programs, which begin during NSO and continue throughout the year. Fox said the programs will center on Civic Engagement, this year's theme topic.

Penn President Amy Gutmann announced on June 3 that the 2020-2021 academic year will be named the Year of Civic Engagement, and will include programs, workshops, and other opportunities for students to engage with communities outside Penn's campus — from West Philadelphia to around the world. The email said the Penn Reading Project for the incoming Class of 2024 will include texts from Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The annual Penn Reading Project, during which small groups meet to discuss the University-assigned book and its themes with a faculty member, will be held online through Canvas. This year, discussion groups will also be facilitated by upperclassmen, graduate students, and staff. 

These groups will be available before NSO so that students can participate over a longer period of time before they arrive on campus, Fox said.

Fox said some aspects of the program remain undecided as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the nation, which he said creates challenges when planning for NSO over a month in advance. 

“We’re orchestrating what is a very big, complicated process," Fox said. "I feel that we’re up to the challenge, but of course, we want to make sure that we do this in the best possible way we can."