Orientation programs can be powerful ways to immediately engage new faculty members, acclimate them to the campus and familiarize them with the resources and services that will allow them to hit the ground running. A welcoming, engaging orientation program can help faculty members feel comfortable in their new surroundings and prepare them to confidently begin their important role as teachers, researchers and scholars at the university.
But institutions often struggle to develop and deliver a one-size-fits-all orientation program that effectively reaches all faculty members regardless of differences in ranks, roles and experience. The challenge for the people charged with developing orientation and onboarding programs is to reach all faculty groups with a consistent message yet, at the same time, to design individualized programs to meet each one’s specific needs.
At Rochester Institute of Technology, for example, orientation programs for full-time faculty typically include both tenure-track and non-tenure-track hires with different concerns, depending on their rank. Faculty members who are based at our international campuses often have needs that differ due to their home culture and different time zones, and with the delivery of quality orientation programs and resources from a distance. Graduate teaching assistants also have particular needs.
To solve the problem of reaching all faculty at all ranks at this crucial time in their careers, RIT’s faculty career development team designed four different orientation programs that streamline delivery of important content, deliver a “welcome to campus” message in a celebratory way and introduce faculty members to helpful resources and support services. Additionally, the team embeds a strong focus on building strategic networks among peer groups in the programs. The orientation programs include:
Orientation for full-time faculty. Career development professionals design and deliver a three-day orientation for all new full-time tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty. The events scheduled during these first days are intended to convey vital information that will ensure successful assimilation to the university community, including resources they need to succeed in the classroom and guidance on how to begin strategically building their mentoring network.
A host of campus partners present on topics as wide-ranging as the teacher-scholar role, teaching the deaf and hard-of-hearing student population, using campus technologies, and a human resource benefits session. Since RIT is a recognized leader in preparing deaf and hard-of-hearing students for successful careers in professional and technical fields, faculty must learn about access and support services for the more than 1,100 of those students on our campus. Faculty members are also given the opportunity to meet with other campus support units such as Teaching and Learning Services, Sponsored Research Services, reference librarians, and student advising and records specialists that provide services for both student and faculty success.
As part of the onboarding experience, follow-on sessions for new faculty to socialize and meet campus administrators are popular, as are lunchtime sessions on developing teaching strategies for new faculty and events for faculty to share their work around teaching and scholarship successes. The program offers many opportunities for faculty to continue building their networks and participate in personal and professional development activities, like a walking tour of RIT’s art and architecture, a faculty showcase highlighting examples of successful grant projects, and social events such as free coffee breaks where faculty members can relax and unwind with colleagues.
Adjunct faculty orientation. Many of the same resources introduced at the full-time-faculty orientation are repeated at the adjunct sessions, but in abbreviated format to better meet adjunct instructors’ time constraints. Much of the material is provided to adjuncts online via videos, self-paced tutorials or links to useful instructional materials and tutorials. Adjunct orientations are offered prior to each new semester.
Recognizing the need for adjunct faculty to establish peer networks with colleagues, the career development team has also created an adjunct faculty mentoring community offering special events each semester for adjuncts to build community and to provide networking opportunities. Around a lunch or casual dinner, faculty and staff members speak about a topic of interest determined by adjuncts. Adjunct faculty can often feel excluded from the larger faculty population, so events formerly for full-time faculty only are now open to them, as well.
International faculty orientation. RIT currently has five international campuses, so we piloted a new orientation program in fall 2017 tailored specifically to faculty teaching at those locations. That seemed like the next logical step to support faculty success and establish a sense of community with the main campus in Rochester, N.Y.
The new program included a virtual orientation session for the university’s global campus in Dubai, U.A.E., with the goal of helping international faculty feel less isolated from the main campus. Professors at other international campuses in Kosovo and Croatia have also been invited to explore the new online orientation materials. Modeled after the university’s successful adjunct orientation, this program includes information on how to navigate university systems and resources tailored for the international faculty.
The pilot included a brief, synchronous web-based session to introduce key resource people such as the career development team and the university librarian for global campuses. Live sessions were followed up with an introduction to online modules/resources on the campus learning management system, student records systems and library services, to name a few.
The goal is to share early and consistent information with each campus to make these faculty members a welcome part of the academic community and familiarize them with the tools they are expected to use in teaching.
Teaching assistant orientation. A new orientation program for graduate teaching assistants kicked off in the fall 2017 semester at the request of the dean of graduate education.
The idea was to provide “just-in-time” training at the orientation to new teaching assistants introducing the tools, systems and people they would need to know in order to begin providing classroom support for their assigned faculty. The program included an overview from the dean of graduate education and presentations from professional staff in teaching and learning services, access services, and student counseling and psychological services. The Office of Graduate Education is also designing a new website that will contain all the resources, self-paced tutorials and other materials needed to successfully teach in the classroom.
We like to think that our orientation sessions are made to order. We tailor our faculty onboarding sessions based on specific needs of the faculty group -- whether in Rochester or halfway across the world in Dubai. Each program is revised annually based on at-event feedback and advice from deans and department chairs regarding faculty needs. With the advancement of digital devices and cloud-based technologies -- and the necessity of making resources available any time, any place -- more materials will continue to be made available online.
The team will continue to build strong follow-on sessions encouraging peer mentoring to help colleagues be successful in the classroom and beyond. There is no greater resource than the faculty charged with teaching our students and campuses need to prepare them for success -- the first step toward success being our orientation programs.