The Wayne State Welcome Center has developed new hybrid programming to support students this fall.
The Welcome Center had been using virtual programming throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to accommodate students’ needs, Student Service Center Outreach Coordinator Ahmad Awada said.
“Being remote gave us the opportunity to really think about how we can be innovative and still staying connected with students,” Student Service Center Director Latonia Garrett said.
The Welcome Center houses several offices designed for student success, Awada said. It also provides necessary resources and information for current and prospective students.
Awada said staff seek to proactively reach out to students.
“Our main focus, especially when it comes to my position as a student service coordinator, is to outreach 一 in particular outreach and marketing,” Awada said. “So we are not waiting necessarily for students to ask those questions, but we’re proactively reaching out to students.”
With this goal in mind, the Welcome Center has supported students in various ways, Awada said. This includes mental health check-ins through calls and informative sessions via Zoom.
Awada said the Zoom events include presentations and demonstrations on navigating specific systems or websites online. They also include engaging activities such as trivia games and Q&A sessions.
Informative events included “Beat the Rush” for those who need help through financial aid and registration; “FAFSA Friday” for students who need assistance to complete their FAFSA; and “SSC Express” for reviewing topics such as billing, financial aid and registration before the academic year, Awada said.
“The Student Service Center Express especially is one of our most popular and longest standing presentations that we do have,” Garrett said.
Student leaders also help their peers findassistance for certain departments, Awada said.
“The student is not expected to kind of go and find where they need to go, but the student leader will be there to guide and direct immediately as they walk in,” Awada said.
Student Leader and senior Megan Mueller said the virtual programming has been beneficial for her and will help new students too.
“I’ve been lucky to be a part of these programs because they have taught me a lot about what the Student Service Center offers and why it is important to utilize their resources,” Mueller said. “Including programming is important because it allows incoming students to connect with resources on campus they may not have otherwise sought out on their own.”
Garrett said those involved in planning the virtual programming want to incorporate it in future programming for years to come.
“The question we were asking ourselves is how we can make students have an experience, interaction with us that is as true to sitting there in front of us ... those are things we sat down to think about,” Garrett said. “So we were already headed in this direction.”
While the virtual events have been mainly for students, Garrett said faculty and staff have also attended. This allowed faculty and staff to learn more about their students and strive to become better advisors.
“It's everybody's job, just like it’s everybody's job to help students get registered, it's everybody's job to help students feel safe, it's everybody's job to help students feel included,” Garrett said.
Garrett said the Welcome Center Invitation workshop was held on May 19, June 10 and July 20. Over 300 WSU employees attended, including advisors, deans and associate deans.
“This was particularly directed at faculty and staff and it was set with the intention of just giving them the most common questions that we get from students,” Garrett said. “... things that we think they should know to be our best advocate and helping us to help students.”
Awada and Garrett said that partaking in virtual programming is crucial to be an active member of the WSU community.
“Without the programming you have a relationship with our office where you come in, you have a problem, you present a problem, we fix the problem and then we see you the next time you have a problem,” Garrett said. “That’s not the relationship we want. We want a relationship where we are teaching you something.”
Garrett said Welcome Center administrators willwork on incorporating remote aspects of programming into in-person events as part of the hybrid programming. This is in accordance with WSU plans to increase campus operations this fall.
“We will definitely continue it (virtual programming). We’ll figure out how now with us going to campus, we have the component of meeting with students in person,” Awada said. “Now it’s going to be, how do we balance all four. Phone, emails, walk-ins and (virtual) programming.”
In an Aug. 13 email to The South End, Student Leader Martin Bustos said he appreciates the Welcome Center staff’s willingness to work with students.
“They accept questions at any time during the programs, so it allowed students to understand things that are more important to them personally,” Bustos said.
Awada said he always encourages students to reach out with questions or for other assistance.
“You’re going to need help along the way,” Awada said. “Whether it’s just asking a simple question, it’s going to be really important. And that’s why we want to take away the stigma of ‘questions are bad.’ Our job is to help.”
Awada said the role of the Welcome Center is to support WSU students.
“That’s literally what myself, Latonia, and every staff member is here to do — to literally help students,” Awada said. “Whether it be with asking questions or helping them do some research or trying to find them other options, that’s literally why we are here. And that’s something we’re all very prideful of.”
The hybrid programming takes effect at the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year, Awada said.
Ashley Harris is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Cover photo by Quinn Banks, The South End's multimedia editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.