Common goals help pan-university team focus on welcoming new students

April 16, 2021
Members of the Welcome Day Revisioning and Implementation Team during a Zoom call in 2020. The 73-member team has been awarded the SFU Staff Achievement Team Award for the efforts to welcome new students to SFU with a virtual Welcome Day event.

Everyone at Simon Fraser University has a role to play in helping new students feel welcome. This was the shared goal that helped the 73-member Welcome Day Revisioning and Implementation Team re-imagine a new kind of welcome experience for students last fall. For its efforts, the team has been awarded a 2020 Staff Achievement Award.

The virtual Welcome Day was a task that no one anticipated carrying out during the disruption caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. But the sudden shift toward online delivery provided the unprecedented opportunity of a blank slate from which to create new programming for students, while deepening relationships across the university.

“Through this experience we’ve learned how well we can work collaboratively with faculty and other people at the university to make it a whole institution-wide event,” says Caitlin Stiles, associate director, student engagement.

With more than 3,500 participants, SFU’s Fall 2020 Welcome Day was one of the largest online events ever delivered by the university, and these new students benefitted from a more cohesive suite of orientation and transition programming than was previously offered.

The team worked to ensure a consistent experience for all students through improvements to general and faculty-specific programming for the SFU101 online course. One key addition was the integration of HIVEs (Home for Interactive Virtual Engagement). These faculty and interest-based social groups, led by hundreds of student leaders, help new students forge social connections in an online environment. Thanks to these changes, new students now receive four months of continuous support and mentorship as they transition into university life.

The team’s work throughout the challenging circumstances of 2020 has provided the groundwork for further improving the welcome experience for students in the future, and it’s the dedication to this goal that has helped everyone stay on track. Stiles’ advice for working with a large and diverse group: “take the time to start from the vision and goal to set your team up for success.”

The team includes 73 staff members across the SFU community, including Student Services, all eight faculties, the Simon Fraser Student Society, Surrey Campus, Vancouver Campus, Ceremonies and Events, Meeting and Event Services, IT Services, and Fraser International College.