Not just for first-year students

Not just for first-year students

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On Iowa! expands to include focus on transfers
crowd of On Iowa! studentsFirst-year students vie for the attention of t-shirt tossers during the On Iowa! Kickoff at Kinnick in fall 2012. File photo by Bill Adams.

In just three years, the On Iowa! program has become a University of Iowa campus tradition, bringing together some 4,500 students, hundreds of faculty and staff, and others throughout the UI community. This year, program goes even bigger.

Originally a welcome and orientation program for first-year students making the transition to college, On Iowa! has added a series of special events designed for new transfer students, too.

The changes are the latest evolution to a program that’s quickly come into its own. They’re also part of a focus on transfers that expands Iowa’s emphasis on helping students succeed in the classroom and beyond.

“On Iowa! has become one of our key student success programs,” says Sarah Hansen, assistant vice president for student life assessment and strategic initiatives. “First-year students have told us how it helps boost their confidence and connections. We think transfer students will find it just as valuable.”

Grassroots notion

Like other UI student success initiatives, On Iowa! began among a small group of people with a big idea.

Volunteer power

True to its grassroots origins, the On Iowa! program relies on several hundred campus and community volunteers.

This year, the program posted more than 1,100 volunteer slots, everything from helping students move into the residence halls, to handling security at a Saturday-night concert, to staffing recycling stations at the President’s Block Party.

“On Iowa! runs on volunteers,” says Kate Sojka, director of academic support and new student programs for Academic Support and Retention. “We have a lot of people who come back year after year. It’s a great way to meet students and celebrate the start of the academic year.”

On Iowa! this year used new software to help volunteers sign up and to manage available slots. The initial call for volunteers usually goes out in late spring, so mark your calendars for 2014.

Since 2006, the university’s Student Success Team—a cross-campus group open to all interested faculty, staff, and students—has developed and implemented projects that foster undergraduate achievement. The notion of a pre-semester event for new students was one of the earliest ideas to take root.

In 2011, the first On Iowa! program included a massive kickoff rally at Kinnick Stadium, sessions on academic skills, opportunities for students to get connect with campus organizations, and plenty of other activities designed to acquaint students with the university and each other. It also incorporated the existing Convocation and President’s Block Party.

Over the past couple of years, organizers have streamlined the program based on student feedback and firsthand experience. But all the key elements remain.

“It’s still a huge logistical challenge that demands months of preparation, hundreds of people, and a lot of collaboration,” says Kate Sojka, director of academic support and new student programs for Academic Support and Retention. “We know we’re giving our students a great introduction to the college experience, and that makes it all worthwhile.”

Other student success initiatives like Pick One! and The Iowa Challenge have similarly become part of the UI culture, but only because they’ve proven their worth. From the start, Iowa’s focus on student success has privileged assessment, improvement, and results.

Like those that have come before, new transfer initiatives stemmed from a cross-unit “Transfer Think Tank” that brainstormed ideas, conducted research, and looked to the existing literature on the issues and opportunities facing transfer students. A grant from the Office of the Provost provides pilot support for the projects starting this fall.

Transfer mentors and more

When Morgan Miller transferred to the UI in 2011, she was lucky to find a friend who helped her learn the basics.

“She taught me about getting football tickets, great classes to take, and the best places to eat downtown,” Miller recalls, “the kind of things you don’t really get in Orientation.”

That experience prompted Miller to sign on as a mentor for new transfer students, another program aimed at helping them make the transition.

“We want to help these students get started in ways that are tailored to them,” says Michelle Cohenour, director of retention and early intervention for Academic Support and Retention. “We recognize their experience—they’re not new to college, but they are new to the University of Iowa.”

This fall, about 2,000 new transfer students will arrive on campus. In addition to On Iowa! and the mentoring program, they’ll discover a new website ( stocked with success tips. There’s also a residence-hall-based living-learning community especially for transfer students.

Miller, an elementary education major who transferred from the University of Nebraska at Omaha to be closer to home, says finding a niche on campus was her biggest challenge. Her existing credits transferred, and she praises UI staff for helping her continue her studies without a hitch.

“I’ve had a great experience, and I want to pass that along,” Miller says. “I really fell in love with the University of Iowa, and I hope others will, too.”


Lin Larson, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0042


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