College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Guest post: Orientation sets new students up for success, helps transition to college

Joel Johnson
Guest author: Joel Johnson, director of engineering student services

Orientation is an exciting time on campus—new students are thrilled to be here, and their energy is contagious.

The overall experience of orientation has changed since I was a student in college. We had to register for classes in person with a pencil and note card and stand in line to sign up. Then, if one of the courses was full, we had to get out of line to figure out which class was available and start the process over again. Needless to say, it was not a speedy or customer-oriented process!

Now, students get to register online in real time, without the long lines and waiting. But there’s a lot more to orientation than registering for classes.

In the College of Engineering, we focus on helping new students make the transition to college as smooth as possible. This process involves two days of presentations, activities and tours to share as many resources as we can so students can successfully navigate their time at Iowa State.

This June, we hosted 1,806 students at new student orientation. This total doesn’t include their families, who are also encouraged to attend. It has been a record year for orientation, and our entire student services staff, college advisors, and faculty/staff have done a great job getting out information and helping the newest Cyclones!

A critical aspect of the college’s orientation experience is a student’s academic preparation for entry to the college and our engineering curriculum. Students who attend orientation learn more about courses they will be engaged in. They even get to sit down one-on-one with their advisors to plan their first semester of enrollment, thus establishing an important relationship they will have throughout their time at Iowa State.

They are also introduced to learning communities, which are small groups of students who generally take two or three courses together and may also live near each other in the same residence hall. Our engineering students are encouraged to join a learning community while attending orientation; a key student success and retention tool available for incoming engineering students. Also, students have structured activities and time to get to meet other students and start building a peer network.

Another important change from when I was a student is the level of involvement of parents. We view parents as advocates for student success, and we give them tips on how to support their student during the transition to college. We have even started a Parents and Families newsletter (sign up here if you’re interested), which will be distributed a few times a year and include timelines for upcoming educational milestones and other important information to help students along their journey.

One thing we really like to emphasize is that we have a large number of resources to help students who may be struggling, either academically or personally. Student services staff is always available via phone (515) 294-7186 or e-mail

Transfer students are also invited to participate in orientation. With their previous college experience, we offer an online option or an abbreviated, on-site experience.

The weekend before classes start, many new students participate in Destination Iowa State. This year, the college was involved in the Center of ExCYtment, where faculty, staff, and student club leaders met and greeted students.

Our college’s Engineering Student Council will host an engineering club fair this fall. This event is a way for incoming, first year students, to get involved and connected with the more than 40 student organizations in engineering. This year, it’s scheduled for Sept. 5, from 4-6 p.m. by the water tower. (Rain location is in Howe Hall atrium.). The college will also be recognizing our many competition teams at this event.

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into welcoming students to campus, but it’s all worth it to make our students feel at home and prepared for their academic and personal transition to Iowa State and our college before classes even start.

About the author

Joel Johnson came to Iowa State in 2008. He provides administrative leadership for the College of Engineering’s student services division, serves as the student organization advisor for Engineering Student Council and works with student organizations on leadership development. He received his bachelor’s degree in history (’92) and master’s degree in college student counseling and personnel services (’94) from Western Illinois University. He is currently working on a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies at Iowa State.