Utah State University will welcome the class of 2024 this week with modified activities that allow incoming freshman to become part of the Aggie family despite the unusual circumstances. Students enrolled in the USU 1010 Connections course will celebrate their new status by participating in traditional events that have been revised from previous years to accommodate for social distancing and safety precautions due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The week’s highlight will see students participate in the fifth annual Connections Luminary on Friday, Aug. 28, at 9 p.m. Participants will celebrate the beginning of their college career in small-grouped, socially-distanced pods located throughout the main campus in Logan. While the event is closed to the public, USU’s Utah Public Radio, https://www.upr.org/, will broadcast the event from 9-9:30 p.m., allowing for participation from USU’s Statewide Campus system, USU parents and the public.
In order to follow university social distancing protocols, each Connections class will be assigned to a specific area and students will be spaced out inside each pod throughout the duration of the luminary event. Although outside, all students, peer mentors and instructors will be required to wear face coverings and hand sanitizer will be provided. All incoming students are receiving a thermometer in their COVID Care Kit provided by USU Student Affairs and will be asked to stay home if they are experiencing symptoms.
The gathering will feature a broadcasted welcome by USU President Noelle E. Cockett, who will explain the meaning behind “lighting the A blue” on Old Main Tower. The evening will end with a USU favorite, a serving of Aggie Ice Cream.
“Lighting the A blue signifies a victory or accolade bestowed upon the university or its students, an honor that will be especially poignant during the coming year as we navigate the challenges of the pandemic,” President Cockett said. “During their time at USU, students will encounter personal victories—both small and large—that they can compare to “lighting the A blue.”
The Connections course helps students understand how the university curriculum and its various requirements can help them flourish in the workplace, public square, and in their lives after graduation. The course also includes a mentoring program that provides incoming students with a faculty mentor and advocate during their first year on campus.
“Having a faculty mentor and seeing the value in one’s education, particularly for freshman, is really essential for success in college,” said Harrison Kleiner, USU’s associate vice provost for general education and professor of philosophy. “And given the challenges in building a sense of community with pandemic distancing guidelines, we think helping students see the meaning in their academic work and connecting them with a faculty mentor are perhaps more important this year than ever.”
USU has made many efforts to create an inviting campus even with the limitations of the pandemic, and the Connections program has integrated resources into the curriculum to help students have the best experience possible.
“It is critical to incoming students’ success that they understand how to navigate the challenges that come with starting their university career and in particular, the unique challenges of this academic year,” said Jennifer Grewe, assistant professor and program director for USU Connections. “We want them to know about all the many people and offices that are ready to help when they do face challenges.”
Despite the challenges in organizing the luminary event, USU’s Student Orientation and Transition Services wants to ensure a successful evening for students that they will remember forever.
“College is an incredibly impactful experience, and this event is a great way to commemorate and celebrate the class of 2024,” said Lisa Simmons, director, Student Orientation and Transition Services. “Most of our incoming students missed out on their high school graduation last spring, so we knew it was important to provide an event to celebrate the commencement of their college career. The campus community really came together to help us plan the event that falls within current safety guidelines, but still provides an in-person community-building experience.”
Connections students will also participate in an “Explore Downtown” night involving Logan city’s Downtown Alliance. On three separate evenings this week, small groups of students are invited to visit and eat at participating establishments, while using social distance guidelines and wearing masks. An Aggie Rec Center night is also on the rotation for student participants.
“By participating in Connections and the luminary, we hope students will focus on graduation from the very beginning of their college career, and that they will be better equipped to recognize their own personal victories along the way,” Simmons said.