Published: July 17, 2018

AOP celebrates 65 years, jump starts student success

Contact(s): Jessi Adler University Communications office: (517) 355-6469

In 1953, MSU’s then-president John Hannah saw a need and implemented a program that is still in existence today, 65 years later. In an effort to help students acclimate to college and ensure academic success, Hannah introduced a new-student orientation program known today as the Academic Orientation Program.

After World War II there was a large veteran population enrolling at Michigan State College for free as a result of the GI Bill. Hannah realized that providing these students with on-campus housing and counseling was not enough to help them achieve student success. It was necessary to invest in a solid program to provide students with academic support prior to and during the college transition.

As a result, Hannah created an overnight academic orientation program to provide incoming students with the knowledge and resources they would need to be successful once they arrived on campus. While most colleges offered some type of freshman welcome program, Hannah’s overnight program, which included an academic focus, was the first of its kind and set the standard for other universities.

Today, MSU welcomes thousands of students each summer to AOP. For six weeks, between 380-400 students arrive daily Monday through Thursday to begin a two-day, one night stay to create an academic learning plan, learn about MSU, visit the campus neighborhoods, enroll in classes, meet new friends and get an introduction to the many different resources and activities available on campus.  

“Students are quiet when they first arrive in the morning, but by evening they’re laughing and having fun,” said Marybeth Heeder, Academic Orientation and Transitions Office director. “For many students AOP is their first real introduction to a formal college learning experience. Students remember AOP long after they complete the program and it helps them really become part of the MSU family.”

Heeder says one of the important parts about orientation is letting students know they are not alone in their journey. The transition to college life can be scary and uncertain, so orientation is designed to alleviate as many jitters and concerns as possible. Students are advised that their journey through college will be more like a maze than a straight line. They might change their major, find a new purpose and it’s okay to fail and learn from the experience.

New this year, each incoming student was presented with a book called “Side by Side - A collection of stories regarding everything about what it means to be human.” The stories are written by current MSU students, faculty, academic advisers and other staff on topics such as stress, asking for help, being respectful and other life lessons. According to Heeder, the stories are designed to show students “that you don’t have to go through the maze by yourself.”

Also new this year, are sessions and projects emphasizing the importance of respect. Students learn about advocating for positive social change, relationship violence and sexual misconduct and contributing to a supportive campus climate. As part of the campus Go Teal project students are making teal ribbons and using teal sticky notes on a bulletin board to share their story and inspire others.

During their time at AOP, students also are encouraged to lend a hand by making blankets for new students not used to cold weather, writing welcome cards for international students and packing food for the MSU student food bank.

More than 100 full-time and summer student staff are needed for orientation to run successfully said Heeder, who has been in charge of AOP for more than 35 years.

One of the students working orientation is Wanh Tran, a senior neuroscience major. This summer he is a resident orientation leader, responsible for helping students transition to MSU, including leading small group discussions. He has worked AOP twice because he had an amazing time at his orientation and wants to ensure future Spartans do as well. His first steps on MSU’s campus were at AOP so he knows the trepidation many new students feel.

“First impressions are powerful, and AOP is an important part of that,” Tran stated. “The activities help students of all backgrounds come to campus in the fall feeling like they belong and that this is home.”

By summer’s end, more than 8,000 new students will have attended AOP, ensuring one of Hannah’s many legacies lives on.