From taking a photo with John Carroll to struggling to find Maguire Hall, first-year and transfer students enjoyed a quintessential return to the Hilltop with the first in-person New Student Orientation since spring 2020.
This year’s NSO, which commenced Aug. 20, initiated Georgetown University’s return to in-person instruction after more than a full year of virtual operations. Over the course of five days, new students participated in in-person and virtual activities to introduce them to the Georgetown community.
The opportunity to interact with peers in person helped to make campus feel more welcoming, according to Mackenzie O’Connor (COL ’25).
“I know a lot of my friends from high school had fully online and virtual orientations,” O’Connor said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “And being actually able to meet people rather than seeing them on Zoom and actually getting to walk around campus with them, it definitely made a difference in welcoming me.”
Last year NSO was held virtually after the university moved to remote operations for the fall semester. While coordinators organized online programming for incoming students, they faced a variety of issues, including technical problems and logistical issues with panel events.
Annika Swanson (COL ’24), an orientation advisor, found NSO is key for fostering community among first-years.
“When I did NSO online I didn’t feel very connected when I would join the panels because cameras were off and people were missing,” Swanson said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “But here, there’s a lot more participation and a lot more attendance. It was a lot easier to communicate in person with in-person discussions and seeing everybody and spending time together and showing them around D.C.”
In-person activities for students included small group meetings with orientation advisors, a welcome back barbeque for students on Healy Lawn and a New Student Convocation Ceremony on Copley Lawn. Students also attended virtual panels held on Zoom on racial justice, Jesuit values and health and wellness.
Despite being held virtually, the events were informative and engaging, especially the panel on Jesuit values, according to O’Connor.
“I didn’t realize that there were so many different religions represented on campus. There was an imam, an orthodox priest, a rabbi,” O’Connor said. “I didn’t really understand the true abundance of resources Georgetown had for religious life here. That was one thing that really shocked me.”
The panel on racial justice — which discussed a variety of topics, including the GU272, the sale of 314 enslaved people in 1838 by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus — was important to help students become empathetic, well-informed community members, according to NSO Student Coordinator Brendan Omaña (SFS ’23).
“Learning and engaging with the topic of racial justice is essential to be a well-rounded citizen of the world, much less a well-rounded college student (particularly relevant at an institution like Georgetown with its deplorable, but unfortunately often overlooked, history with enslaved people),” Omaña wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We want to ensure that every new student has the opportunity to delve into this topic, especially if they haven’t before arriving on campus.”
All students participating in NSO were required to adhere to the university’s COVID-19 guidelines, including taking a COVID-19 test upon their arrival to campus. Additionally, at all NSO events, students were required to be masked regardless of vaccination status. The decision to require masks at all events and split students into smaller groups was made to keep students and NSO staff safe, according to Omaña.
“With so many students coming together in a short time period and arriving to campus from disparate locations, we took this measure to ensure that our staff as well as the new students were as safe as possible during the transition back,” Omaña wrote. “As well, during indoor staff training modules we mandated our staff stay in “pods” of 7-8 students to minimize cross-group interaction.”
For Faith Lynnette Garza (SFS ’25), who completed her senior year of high school online, the COVID-19 precautions at NSO helped to ease the transition to in-person activities.
“It felt a little more normal, and it also kept it safe to be in a smaller group,” Garza said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “I felt that it was less nerve-racking to be stressing out over the huge amount of people at first. It made it feel a little more comfortable talking to everybody. It felt safer to have our NSO leader be so clear about the precautions being taken, and it just felt safe; it didn’t feel like we were jumping into anything too fast.”
Despite the looming threat COVID-19 poses to continued in-person activities , the atmosphere at NSO generated anticipation for the coming year, according to Garza.
“I am most definitely excited beyond any other feeling. I love walking around campus and seeing where my next class is going to be,” Garza said. “I’m also of course apprehensive, but I feel so excited.”