HR professionals know the value of an effective onboarding program—the process of orienting and training a new employee. Welcoming new students to a rigorous graduate program can require a similar initiative to ensure a smooth transition into the program, especially when the cohort is coming from across the U.S. and around the world. It’s within that backdrop that the MA-HRIR program embarked on an extensive overhaul of its new student orientation process.
Throughout the Fall 2019 semester, four MA-HRIR students, first-years Sofia Gu and Jerri Snyder, and second-years Mari Miyamoto and Star Wynn, worked together with staff member Stacy Doepner-Hove to create a new online orientation program for incoming students to use during the summer. The program is laid out through six modules integrated through Canvas, the online educational portal, which helps familiarize incoming students with the platform. In addition, Canvas is accessible almost world-wide, which works well for our “geo-nationally diverse cohort.” Every two weeks during May, June and July 2019 a new module will open for incoming students to explore ‘getting-to-know-you’ information, brief HR content and suggestions for summer study if students want to brush up on things before the program begins, campus and community resources, information from the graduate business career center, the HRIR classroom and small group work, and both individual and group assignments around cross-cultural agility and working in diverse teams. These modules were thoughtfully designed by our group of students.
The group’s first meeting for this project began mid-December. They met weekly to discuss their individual progress and to create future goals for the direction of their work. The team collaborated well together; each member provided unique perspectives that assisted them throughout the creation of the program. The students share their experiences during the process:
Jerri Snyder: Our team was comprised of students from a variety of perspectives and past-experiences. We had students from both first- and second-year classes as well as domestic and international students represented. This diversity of thought greatly impacted our process for developing the online orientation.
Star Wynn: Our process has been to first establish the opportunities for growth of the HRIR program participants as well as key competencies that would help them to excel in the program. Based on what we identified we built programming and resources.
Mari Miyamoto: We started brainstorming to generate ideas of what kind of applications, assistance or content we could provide to enhance their [incoming students] overall program experience. We also asked our classmates who were the best people to ask opinions about particular matters individually, then brought them back to our group. Then, we came to a consensus on what content we needed to create based on this idea- generation stage.
Sofia Gu: In January, we started to work independently and meet weekly to share updates and get feedback, which worked very well in our team.
Mari: I think this helped a lot for us to work as a group because there was a lot of content we had to create individually. Since we understood what other members did and what content it should be, we were able to help each other in each meeting.
Jerri: In many cases, we would discuss the potential structure or resources for the site and a team member would bring up a completely different way of looking at or interpreting that information.
Sofia: Everyone was thoughtful and open to new ideas. Sometimes, we were even overwhelmed by the continuous creative solutions and had to give up some of them due to the limited time.
Jerri: As we created the site content, Stacy also wanted to keep our “voices” and how we would phrase or construct things in the final product. So, rather than having one voice and lens throughout the orientation, we have included several different ways to look at, engage with, and phrase the information. I believe that incorporating this process into the orientation will help us reach more students.
The group members share how they hope the new program will impact future students:
Sofia: I think it’s beneficial for both domestic and international students, especially in the HR major. Not only does the summer orientation program provide them with abundant campus and community resources but prepares them to study and work in a diverse setting. The inter-cultural agility part is not just designed for international students to understand the U.S. culture as other orientations do. It could foster mutual understanding and give practical advice for a diverse work setting.
Jerri: In particular, I hope that domestic students will utilize the resources within the orientation to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by international students. In identifying resources and working on various projects, our orientation team tried to consider how these resources could promote cultural agility within the program. For example, when developing content about culture shock, our team conducted focus groups and created videos with current students telling their story in their own words. These resources and others we developed are meant to demonstrate how change impacted students from a wide range of backgrounds. I hope that these resources will not only support students on an individual level but also help them consider how they can better offer support from a peer-perspective.
Mari: I believe this helps them feel they are ready to come to the University of Minnesota and acknowledge that our program is trying to assist them to land here smoothly.
Sofia: Taking some resources out of the in-person orientation could make them more accessible before and after the orientation. Also, more practical activities like experiential training on networking will be on the orientation schedule.
Star: Future students will now be prepared both academically and socially in our rigorous intercultural HRIR program. They will learn tools that will allow them to succeed professionally as well.
Developing the new online orientation program was a significant project for each of the group members. They learned a great deal from their process and hope that the program will provide incoming students with a smooth transition to our community. The members share why creating the program was important to them:
Star: It was important to our group because we are investing in the HR professionals of tomorrow and in our degrees. By building the next generation of Carlson School students we add value.
Jerri: My primary goal in this project was helping to ease the transition into the program for future HRIR students. The HRIR program is strong because it is home to so many unique perspectives and experiences, and that also means that students are coming in with different needs and interests. It was important to me that our online orientation try to intentionally connect students with a number of resources and provide all of those connections in one, “easy-to-find” site.
Sofia: A lot of work we did is pure innovation and we are proud of ourselves. I appreciate working with the team. They are all amazing people and open-minded to my ideas. I thought to work in the U.S. was a big challenge to me, but the team really made me feel like home. I’m also responsible for building up the course on Canvas, and I enjoy being an expert and helping people out on their part. The group work is perfect, and we’ll keep an eye on how the orientation program goes.
We are grateful for the hard work and consideration each of the group members put into designing this program to help incoming students work well in our diverse environment. We will follow-up next fall with an article that shares how the members’ hard work impacted incoming students. Stay tuned!