Penn’s pre-orientation programs for incoming first-year students will be returning to an in-person format for the 2021 fall semester, according to the Vice Provost for University Life website.
Pre-orientation program coordinators and student leaders advocated for in-person programs this summer as part of the University’s anticipated return to in-person instruction. All pre-orientation programs in 2020 took place virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a focus on community-building, the University hosts five pre-orientation programs through University Life, including PENNacle, PennCORP, PennQuest, PennGreen, and PennArts. Other campus organizations and departments also host their own pre-orientation programs, such as Penn Hillel’s Pre-Orientation Retreat, the Penn Association for Gender Equity’s new PennGenEq program, and the Wharton School’s Successful Transition & Empowerment program.
Rising College senior and PennArts coordinator Srinidhi Ramakrishna said that the in-person experience of pre-orientation programs is essential for incoming students as they adjust to life at Penn, adding that she and other pre-orientation leaders heard countless testimonials from participants on "the programs’ empirical effectiveness and the need for all these programs to be held in person."
College rising senior and PennQuest head coordinator Max Strickberger echoed this belief, saying that “pre-orientation programs are Penn’s most impactful way to engage freshmen, and they only work as well as they do in person.”
Strickberger said that last year, pre-orientation programs attempted to make events as engaging as possible but could not replicate the in-person connection. PennQuest, for example, involves backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, which does not easily transfer to a virtual setting.
“Instead of three days in the wilderness, it was three days on your computer. We made the activities interactive and still focused on group bonding, but it wasn’t the same,” Strickberger said.
Some pre-orientation programs unaffiliated with University Life will not be held fully in person. Executive director of Penn First Plus Marc Lo and director of the organization’s Pre-Freshman Program Keisha Johnson said that PFP will operate both in-person and virtually to accommodate students and to track COVID-19 limitations as they progress throughout the summer.
Many pre-orientation programs continue to experiment with the return to normalcy. Lo and Johnson said that the “hybrid” nature of PFP will be different but wish to ensure that “this [social] piece of the experience, at minimum, remains true.” Rising College junior and Penn Hillel Pre-Orientation Retreat coordinator Elyse Migdal said that Hillel plans to move its stay to a camp rather than a hotel, and COVID-19 trends and limitations will determine the Retreat’s usual planning in Center City.
In the future, Ramakrishna hopes that PennArts and other pre-orientation programs will continue to be mindful of the health and wellness of incoming students.
"Just because we’re all under the same roof now doesn’t mean that we all didn’t have extremely difficult and vastly different life experiences. I think that’s something that we really want to understand and sit with.”
Correction: A previous version of the article was framed in such a way that made it seem that Penn Hillel's Pre-orientation Retreat will take place partially online, when in fact, the retreat will be 100% in-person. The DP regrets this error.