For the first time ever, Penn will offer rising sophomores an in-person orientation program after their New Student Orientation was hosted online in fall 2020.
From Aug. 29-30, members of the Class of 2024 will be able to participate in unique programming called Second-Year Orientation, according to an email sent on June 30 by the New Student Orientation & Academic Initiatives program which is tasked with planning NSO each year. Many rising sophomores expressed excitement and said that they hope to meet people through the programming and, for some, to take their first steps on campus.
The email announced that in addition to the pre-semester programming, there will be events throughout the year for sophomore students. To kick the semester off, the NSO committee wrote that Sept. 2 will be "Second-Year Day" with to-be-announced events and celebrations.
Penn President Amy Gutmann also sent rising sophomores an email on July 6 to confirm the news and welcome sophomores. She wrote that as a part of SYO, the University has rented out the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Aug. 29 to host a gala dedicated solely to sophomores.
Ordinarily, NSO is designed for rising first-year students and consists of five days of programming at the beginning of the semester. Due to the pandemic, the Class of 2024's NSO was hosted online through a series of web events and online activities.
Though students had praised the University for having an online NSO that allowed them to meet other first years at the time, many reported having accessibility issues and feeling disappointed about the experience.
“They had little video seminars that were specific about clubs, and certain topics, I don't think they had NSO in the traditional sense of actually being oriented,” rising College sophomore Sam Pasco said of the orientation programming in fall 2020.
Pasco had spent his first year fall semester at home and did not feel like he understood much about the University or met anyone through Penn’s online NSO. He said the experience definitely wasn’t the same through the University’s virtual programming, which included Thrive at Penn videos on Canvas and a Convocation video on YouTube.
“I’m not sure what NSO is supposed to be like,” said rising College and Wharton sophomore Gabi Garity, adding that she appreciated Penn’s efforts with initiatives such as career chats and class-wide games like bingo even if it couldn’t match an in-person experience.
Gap year student and rising College sophomore Noah Lewine took the year off after his experience with online classes in spring 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, forcing Penn to send students home.
"I remember NSO really positively," Lewine said. "It helped me meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise. I feel like freshmen last year lost out on an important experience and having a similar set of programming for their sophomore year would make them feel more connected to the campus."
After a completely virtual fall 2020 semester, students were able to return to campus in spring 2021. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, such as social distancing rules, students were discouraged from socializing outside of their pods. Some students even elected to stay home out of concern for health.
"Penn really didn’t have opportunities for freshmen to meet people; the university discouraged interactions because of COVID," Pasco said. "Even with their halls, freshmen weren’t allowed to be in the same room for the first few weeks. It wasn’t until later in the semester that Penn started having events and those were difficult for freshmen to get tickets to."
When asked about what they would hope to see from Penn during the sophomore orientation, sophomores said that being able to enjoy themselves and meet new people was what they most looked forward to.
“Free tickets, free food, anything along those lines would be fun,” rising College sophomore Sydney Saltiel said.
Garity and Pasco echoed similar sentiments, saying they hope Penn creates sponsored events, such as movies, reopening the Penn Ice Rink to the sophomores, and going to art events.
“Prioritizing fun would definitely be welcome — whatever that looks like — in terms of frat parties, or school events, or concerts, or what they did for the Spring Stay where they gave discounted tickets to the zoo," Pasco said. "[It] would be extremely welcoming just to have some fun because that's been kind of long overdue. I worked so hard to get into Penn, got in, and then it's like, there wasn’t a summer to relax, and then going to college wasn’t exactly relaxing either."