Orientation for new Stanford graduate students will be different, while still the same

Stanford is welcoming more than 2,000 master’s, doctoral and professional degree students with a two-week series of opportunities to get to know the university and each other.

Stanford’s new graduate students will experience an orientation that’s unlike any other because of the pandemic, but true to the spirit of the university’s traditional welcome.

New Graduate Student Orientation began Monday with roughly 40 events planned to help the more than 2,000 students settle into the campus community. (Image credit: Kate Chesley)

New Graduate Student Orientation, or NGSO, began Monday. Traditionally, it has lasted a week. This year, it will extend over two weeks. The pre-COVID-19, in-person opportunities to learn about Stanford and make social connections are moving online.

Whether they are arriving physically on campus or beginning their studies remotely from elsewhere, new students will once again find an array of resources to help them settle in and succeed in their graduate studies. The theme for the retooled approach this year is “Refocus & Reimagine.”

“We’re excited to welcome a new group of talented, diverse graduate students to Stanford,” said Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs. “Even amidst today’s unique challenges, we are confident they are embarking on experiences that will be with them forever.”

40 events, 2,000 students

About 40 events have been scheduled to help more than 2,000 students settle into the campus community. All new graduate students are guaranteed housing, and many are moving into the just-completed Escondido Village Graduate Residences. New MD and JD students and those in STEP, the Graduate School of Education’s master’s and teaching certification program, have already begun their orientations or programs and now are being joined by other master’s, doctoral and professional degree students in all seven schools.

“We know that the academic year will be different in many respects,” said Christine Gibo Crapps, an associate dean of students in the Graduate Life Office, which leads NGSO each year. “So we’ve taken a fresh look at orientation. Some programs have been reinvented. Others are brand new. All of them are designed to help students reach their goals and be successful.”

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Bent and other university and student leaders will welcome new students during a live, virtual event on Sept. 10. Stanford alumni from graduate or professional programs – including state Supreme Court Associate Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar; Ellen Ochoa, retired astronaut and director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center; Charles Schwab, board chair of the Charles Schwab Corp., and Nicole Taylor, president and CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, will also greet students via pre-recorded messages.

In a session titled Grad 101, returning students will share experiences and advice on food, housing, transportation, social life and other aspects of living at Stanford.

New students can meet the vice provost’s team; get “top tips” on scheduling, working with advisors and other aspects of managing student life; and learn about Well Being, Vaden Health Services and Cardinal Care health insurance options. Bechtel International Center will host a series of workshops and social events throughout the two weeks.

Events will enable incoming students to learn about an array of offices and organizations that provide support services and cultural, ethnic, religious and other connections. An activities fair known as GOALIE, the Graduate Orientation and Lunch Information Event, will consist of a series of online office hours with 21 student-support organizations on Sept. 4 and 11.

Harking to past orientations

Despite changes brought about because of physical distancing, many of the altered features will retain touches of earlier orientations.

Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs. (Image credit: Rod Searcey)

The themed t-shirts that hosts typically wear to meet and greet new students have given way to a choice of customized virtual backgrounds. The image of a camera in the corner and a round lens in place of an “O” extend the “refocus” theme.

New students won’t be able to introduce themselves in person and strike up conversations with the person in the next seat. So they’ll have new opportunities to meet others and grow their networks, including through grad student trivia and a virtual escape room. The popular “speed friending” event is moving online, with people making connections on small screens instead of moving through huge circles in McCaw Hall.

Anni Zhang, a PhD student in chemical engineering, will run those social events. This will be her third orientation – first as a new student and now as a coordinator for the second year in a row.

“For me, NGSO provided resources and community-building opportunities that helped me feel grounded right away for my time at Stanford,” Zhang said. “I hope that this year’s NGSO programming will help new students feel connected to Stanford and their new communities, which is extremely important given the current global climate.”

GradConnect, a virtual orientation on Canvas, will serve as event central for the meetings, gatherings and open houses. These will include a mix of live and asynchronous meetings. Many sessions are now being offered at multiple times on different dates to account for participants’ different time zones. Most live events will be archived and available long after orientation ends.

“Some will begin this chapter of their lives on campus, with others joining us from locations around the world. But wherever they are physically, NGSO and the parallel, program-specific orientations in schools and departments will help everyone navigate the opportunities and challenges awaiting them,” Bent said. “They’ll have numerous forums to ask questions and receive advice from a host of people and organizations committed to helping them thrive, not just at Stanford but throughout their lives.”