It's rare to see Squires Student Center at Virginia Tech teeming with students in the middle of July during what is traditionally summer break for most students.

But beginning July 10 and continuing through July 28, both the interior and grounds surrounding Squires become a virtual beehive of activity as the facility becomes the central assembly point for students and their parents participating in the 2006 summer orientation sessions.

Every incoming freshman visits Virginia Tech for a two-day orientation session. The first day of orientation is the same for all students, regardless of their intended major. Students are introduced to their orientation leaders and fellow orientation group members. Groups discuss various topics related to student life such as sexual assault, substance abuse, academics, and the general process of transitioning from high school to college. All incoming freshmen stay in an on-campus residence hall overnight after their first full day of orientation to get a feel for dorm life and be among other members of the freshman class.

On the second day of their stay on campus, the new Hokies participate in sessions and events specific to the college they will be entering at Virginia Tech. Each of the university’s eight colleges plans academic advising sessions for both students and their parents to attend.

While students are obviously the first priority during orientation, a number of new features especially for parents have been added to this year’s program. First is the parent hospitality tent, which is set up on Squires lawn and used to welcome parents upon their arrival. A new session during orientation titled “parents as partners” advises parents on what their role should be in their son or daughter’s college life. An informal Hokie Parent Gathering is also held during the first evening at Squires food court to provide an opportunity for parents to mingle over coffee and refreshments.

Virginia Tech’s orientation mission is to give students and parents a positive experience and enough information to feel confident and comfortable about becoming a part of the Virginia Tech family in the fall. But some aspects of the program set the Virginia Tech orientation program apart from similar programs at other schools.

“We do a good job breaking a very large freshman class down into small groups,” said Rick Sparks, director of new student orientation. “The new students receive one-on-one attention from their orientation leaders, and this may be the only time that kind of focused and personalized attention happens at a school as large as ours. That’s what sets us apart from other large campuses.”

Virginia Tech orientation is made possible by the hard work of many individuals. There are 30 orientation leaders--veteran students themselves--who lead and assist the groups of new students through their two-day visit to Blacksburg. These orientation leaders are current Virginia Tech students who are chosen based on highly selective criteria, and who were required to complete a three-credit class in the spring to prepare them for their leadership roles. The orientation office staff is comprised of four individuals who have been working full time since May to ensure the orientation process goes smoothly for all involved.

But beyond the staff and students who make up the primary orientation team, it is important to note that at Virginia Tech, new student orientation is a university wide effort. “We use extra housekeeping staff, shuttle services, and food services all over campus,” said Sparks. The combination of all these elements, plus the cordial welcome the newcomers receive from the remainder of the campus community and the town of Blacksburg, is what makes orientation both meaningful and successful. Little wonder that by the end of their two-day visit, the new freshmen can’t wait to return in August and start being full-time Hokies.

Click here to take a visual tour of some of the events and activities associated with Orientation 2006.