August 25, 2015

"On Wednesdays we park in the Scarlet Lot": A commuter's guide to fitting in at RU

Unless you work at Google or LinkedIn or another magical place where you work from home, when you have a full-time job, you'll likely drive to work, park, work, get back in your car, and drive home. That's just the nature of working for a living. 

For commuter students, that may be how you intend to approach coming to Rutgers: drive to campus, park, take the bus to class, sit through class, get back in your car, and drive home. It's expedient, but it's not much fun. And it's definitely not helpful in your transition to or experience of college life.
Ask anyone how commuter students should become part of the Rutgers community and you always get the same good answer: GET INVOLVED ON CAMPUS. Now whether the “get involved” battle cry elicits an eye roll or a “yea, that makes sense” from you, it's difficult advice to follow. Especially when it seems as though on-campus students are rolling deep from day 1, it can be hard to go to events (or even walk into class) alone. But alone you are NOT. There are about 1200 of you in the incoming class, and you are an important part of our community… so how to make it feel that way? Being involved looks different for everyone, according to your comfort level and your interests. To make things a little easier, here are some ideas for your first steps to joining the RU community and setting a strong foundation for success ‘on the banks’:

1. Attend OCSA (Off Campus Students' Association) functions to meet other commuters. These are the other people you see in the parking lot; there are more of you than you know, and you are ALL trying to figure out how to meet new people. OCSA has two events next week: Navigating the Banks (August 27) and the Commuter Reception (August 29). Check out all the Welcome Week activities! 

2. Once you've met a new friend or two at the OCSA events, plan to meet them at the Student Involvement Fair to discover all the clubs and activities at RU. 

3. Come to campus! REALLY! Attend other Welcome Week activities and sessions to help you find out more about your new home away from home. As a commuter, you have a leg up for the RUPA Scavenger Hunt because you have your own wheels to get around campus!

4. Attend an RU Football Game (even if you don't love football…sssh, we won’t tell). Students get free tickets to Rutgers sporting events, which is one of the best ways to feel school spirit and pride in becoming a Scarlet Knight. Coordinate with your new friends (see 1, 2 and 3 above) to go to the same game, then wear red, paint your face, learn our fight song and get loud.

5. Find the closest Rec Center and sign up for a fitness class. It's bonding through sweat and struggling, and you may recognize a face or two from your classes. Before you know it, you’ll catch on to the gym nicknames and tell people that you’re going to “Werb”! 

6. Mingle with residents. As a commuter you are welcome as guests in our residence halls for study groups, group projects and socializing. On the flip side, your access to the outside world can be a huge help to your residential friends…especially here in the land of malls and shoreline.

7. Resist leaving campus the minute your class is done. Go hang out at the OCSA lounge (Busch Student Center, Room 122B) and form study groups and find study space specifically on campus. Some of our favorite study places: the Red Lion Café in the CASC, the quiet study room and the Cove in Busch Student Center, the high tables on the 2nd floor bridge between the Livi Student Center and the Livi Dining Commons, and the wingback chairs in the NJC Lounge at Douglass Student Center.

8. Make campus connections on Twitter and Instagram – search #Rutgers to find offices and RU scenes, and follow @RutgersU @RUInfo, @DailyTargum, @RUOCSA and @SASadvising, as well as fellow students. Don’t forget to take and post your own travels around RU and give your friends a shoutout. 

9. Pick up the Daily Targum every day and keep up on all the campus news. Look for Targum drop boxes in all the student centers and many classroom buildings on campus.

10. Schedule an advising appointment for late September/early October to meet an adviser and discuss how things are going. Even if you feel like you don’t have questions, make the appointment! The adviser will ask you questions and help you think about your academic transition and plans. 

 Graduation seems a very long way away, but history has proven that the most successful students at Rutgers and beyond are those who don't just drive by, but who become part of this amazing community (Shoutout to Matt Ferguson & the New Student Orientation staff for the excellent reminder):

August 13, 2015

From Course Request to Schedule: A Magical Journey

Dean Frosh always hears the strains of the Schoolhouse Rock music when she contemplates how schedules are created. Just like Schoolhouse Rock's guide to how a bill becomes a law, your schedule is created in a multi-step, intricate dance of information, ideas and realities. While you're waiting patiently for the schedule reveal on August 20, we thought we'd take you on the journey of how your early academic ideas become a schedule. 

We happily, and noisily, welcomed many of you to an Academic Planning & Advising Day, where you spent a long day hearing about your requirements and course options and met with deans, professors and peer advisers. You completed a course request form: making some choices for your classes and providing us with information about your academic plans and aspirations. 

Some of you entertained us with pictures or notes of inspiration to make us smile when we were reviewing thousands of forms. Here are some of our favs...

We added your writing and math placements to the mix and made some adjustments. Then, AP scores arrive and we make more adjustments. We do it again when IB results and transcripts with college credits appear on our doorstep.

All of your reviewed choices and alternates get entered into a web-based system (some of you even did this yourself instead of using a paper form). This sectioning system runs ONCE, and only once. While we're adjusting course requests, the Housing Office is spending their summer making room assignments. These two processes intersect in late July, so your course requests connect with your campus housing assignments. That doesn't mean you won't travel to other campuses, but it attempts to minimize your time on the bus. 

Throughout May and June and in early July, we're also busy with your emails because you've changed your mind or are responding to questions we had for you. "Why are you interested in taking Calculus when your intended major doesn't require it?" is one of my favorite emails to send, fancying rescuing a student from my own fate taking Calculus as an English and Journalism major. 

The other largely invisible detail is that many, many Rutgers offices send us lists of those of you taking advantage of our special programs which impact your schedule: DRC, the RU-TV Broadcast Communication community and other learning communities, student athletes, ROTC cadets/midshipmen, etc. We also work hard to accommodate religious observances that impact course timing.

And then SECTIONING RUNS. Dean Frosh likes to envision it as a humongous lottery hopper where all the classes spin wildly in the air before setting into your schedule. This year, sectioning created 6086 schedules, 3437 for SAS students. And then we're done and can go on vacation for the rest of the summer, right? Well, not exactly. 

Much like the bill goes from sub-committee to committee to the Senate to the House, the schedules are real, but they're not done. All 3437 are reviewed for issues. By human eyes. Some come back part-time and need courses added, some are at waaay too many credits and need something dropped, and some include errors like Saturday or online classes. We also continue to make adjustments based on more APs and transcripts, summer courses, and cancelled classes. It all starts to look something like this:

All of these changes, tweaks, reviews happen up until the moment of schedule reveal on August 20 – and even after that we continue to adjust for APs and transcripts and time/travel conflicts. Plus, incredibly, new students are still completing their course requests, so we take a break from updating schedules to create their schedules. Sheer volume is one of the reasons we don't take change requests for classes in August. We just can't efficiently manage one-by-one requests for changes in any fair manner that would serve you all and get all of the tasks done correctly.

The other, and more important, reason is that as new students, you need to learn how to use webreg and how to manage your own preferences! Come November, you'll be doing all of your own registering online. So, on August 20, you will receive a good, but probably not perfect, schedule to get you started. And once you get to campus, we will be running sessions on Monday, August 31 to teach you how to make changes and use webreg. Look for dates/times on your Welcome Week orientation schedule and at the SAS Advising website.

We hope this little journey through the life of a schedule helps you understand the process involved in creating your schedule. Your deans and advisers are excited to welcome you to Rutgers and look forward to working with you, helping you, and answering all of your academic questions as you settle in to your life in college. And just remember...