Students are the Experts

Over the last few years, trends at the University of Kentucky suggest that families have become more willing and eager to believe information provided by student leaders than by professional staff. So, if you are looking for ways to incorporate your student leaders’ expertise into more of your orientation experience, here are a few ideas from the University of Kentucky Big Blue Nation Orientation.

Hand students the reins on social media. Let’s get real! Students know more about influencing through social media than I ever will! Why not let them play to their strengths and have fun doing it? For the past few years, our team has allowed our student leaders to co-manage our social media accounts and provided them opportunities for social media takeovers and group member management. We work with our public relations and marketing teams to feature them on official university accounts and utilize their desire to be TikTok famous to build teamwork and let off steam through video content creation. This enables students and families to get to know our student leaders more and provides our professional staff some assistance in managing social media. Here are a few examples of TikTok posts our students leaders have created to help new students and families get to know them:

Co-present family sessions with students. During each day of orientation, the UK Parent and Family Association has the opportunity to present to families and share insights into what families should expect during their student’s transition to college. For the past couple of years, we have co-presented this session with a current student leader, giving the student an opportunity to provide real-life examples of how they have utilized resources, managed their time, made friends, etc. The feedback on this session has been outstanding and the students have really enjoyed having the opportunity to practice their public speaking and share their stories.

Share stories on a student panel. The most anticipated session of UK’s family orientation experience is our “What I Wish My Family Knew” student panel. Each day of orientation, 4-5 student leaders serve on a panel where they answer questions from orientation guests and family members about life at UK. While these student panelists go through a general public speaking training session before they serve on a panel, they are empowered to share real-life experiences, helpful tips, and sometimes hard honest truths about various aspects of the college experience. Guests and family members typically ask questions about housing, dining, athletics, parking, and finding friends, and occasionally ask some tougher questions about alcohol use on campus, mental health, and Covid. A staff facilitator is there to help guide the questions and answer anything that is beyond the panelists experience or expertise.

Utilize lunch for family engagement.Mealtimes during orientation are great for engaging with students and their families in an organic way. Our student leaders are scheduled to enjoy a free lunch during each orientation day and are encouraged to sit with students and their families to get to know them more and help answer any lingering questions they may have. We have seen great results with this model and have made accommodations for our students to take breaks at other times throughout the day to offset their working-lunch time.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas for incorporating student leaders into an orientation program. I know many of you are utilizing your student leaders in fun and creative ways. We’d love to learn more about your orientation student leader experience and hope you will consider posting your creative ideas, tips, and expertise on AHEPPP’s Online Community Discussion Board.

Nicki Jenkins is the Senior Program Specialist for the Parent and Family Association at the University of Kentucky. She is also a member of the AHEPPP Board of Directors.

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