Reimagining student IntroDUCKtion, orientation experiences

Cora Bennett is the Student Orientation Programs director

Editor’s note: Duck of the Week is a section in Around the O Workplace that highlights UO employees and their work. Each story features an interview with one employee, in his or her own words, with light editing for clarity and length only.

Cora Bennett
Director, Student Orientation Programs

How long have you worked at the UO?

I have been a full-time employee at the UO since August of 2001.

Tell us about your work:

Our department portfolio consists of managing campus visits for prospective students and community members from all walks of life. We help VIPs, alumni classes and folks who are interviewing for jobs get acquainted with the campus. We also host some of the larger open houses as a part of our recruitment strategy, and these opportunities help us meet a wide variety of people.

Every year we host programs like IntroDUCKtion and Week of Welcome. The IntroDUCKtion program includes the big program students likely experience during the summer before their first year and other programs catered to students who are admitted each term. Our team hosts smaller, mid-year orientation programs for those students. We also organize a series of transition programs called Oregon Migration, where we go to communities over the summer and get UO students living in that community to interact with each other.

I also talk on the phone and go to meetings, but my work is deeper than that because I get to have an opportunity to showcase the university. The other part of my job revolves around the orientation and transition of new students. I think that the role of our office is to create a seamless experience for students who are thinking about, committing to and matriculating into the UO.

What does your typical day look like?

I think the beautiful thing about my job is that I don’t have a typical day. Because of the nature of my work, my days are defined by what comes next. My team typically thinks about phases, since we’re often in the planning stages for the next big event or milestone for students. Going to meetings and thinking about the various campus stakeholders in our work is another big part of what I do. We work strategically with partners in our division to ensure that we’re supporting the recruitment strategy. Helping the university reach its enrollment goals is a priority for us.

I often work with my team to implement the new ideas and strategies that come out of those meetings. My typical day in July would consist of running IntroDUCKtion. In an in-person setting, I spend all my moments with the parents and family members of our new students. That way I get a chance to learn more about the families and other parts of the Duck community that live afar. With Duck Days, Duck Previews and some of our other events, I’m there to welcome attendees, conduct opening remarks and keep things together to support my team.

Over the past year, everything has transitioned online. I do get to go into the office frequently because we do lots of virtual events. I spend a lot of time in front of the camera, so preparing for those live events is something I do often. Now that everything is virtual, we operate these events in different ways. We run two fall open house events in a typical year. This fall, we ran 10 virtual open house programs, one a week for the entire term. Our approaches this year involve asking how we can creatively achieve the university’s enrollment goals in a new environment. We’re not trying to take old programs and put them on a screen. We want to figure out how to do things that allow people to experience an emotional moment with the UO in a remote setting. The pandemic weirdly provided me an opportunity to be right inside my comfort zone in thinking about new ways to do things that we’ve always done.

What do you like about working at the UO?

I love that I work in a place that is totally willing to try new things. We sort of walk along this ledge, willing to trying things that no one else has thought of. It’s not just a desire to be different. It’s not a show, but rather a willingness to set a new standard. You can see that in the ways that other universities will replicate something that we do. I also like working with students and think that’s one of the things that’s kept me in my position for so long. We hire, supervise, and work with almost 150 students every year. It’s fun to supervise them, teach them new skills and watch them grow as people. It’s also fun for them to teach me new skills as I get older.

The physical beauty of campus is also an inspiration to me. I am an avid amateur photographer, and so just walking around campus during breaks that I have in the day is certainly something that I like a lot. I’m inspired by the environment and the beauty around us.

What keeps you motivated?

I am motivated by change because there’s no shortage of problems to solve. My job has entirely evolved since I first started. When I first started, my office consisted of me and an administrative coordinator. As we grew and became better at our jobs, we were able to expand our staff. Getting to a place that allows me to think through something and find solutions motivates me.

Especially during the last year, I have also been inspired by the new collaborations I participated in. We’ve been able to do amazing things because we started to work with people we don’t work with every day. My professional staff are generally in the first decade of their professional career. When they have a brilliant new idea, I help transform that into a reality.

What is something people may not know about you?

I love photography and enjoy exploring how to make my iPhone photography really amazing. That’s a hobby that helps me see things from a different perspective. Having this computer in my hand and trying to figure out how to make it do amazing things like my DSLR is fun. 

Cora Bennett is part of Student Orientation Programs.

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