Welcome Week heads online amid COVID restrictions

Urszula Sitarz
September 10, 2020
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

The latest health and safety measures mean first-year orientation has had to shift to online delivery.

Welcome Week took on a very new look this year by going virtual. COVID-19 restrictions and McMaster University’s decision to have an online fall term pushed Welcome Week programming and supports to new platforms. From Archway to live and recorded events during Welcome Week, campus organizations have adapted in-person orientation supports to provide incoming first-year students with opportunities to meet other students, learn campus resources and gain university academic skills. 


The Archway program was developed by McMaster Residence Life staff to provide every incoming first-year with a community of 40 other students, an archway mentor and an archway coach. Archway provides each incoming first-year student with proactive guidance, personalized support and a community based on interests. The students meet one-on-one with their mentor and their community once a month and engage with Archway-wide programming throughout the summer and school year.

“[T]he focus is always on the first years . . .  [and] to help students in the long run to make sure they are supported throughout this online environment as much as possible,” said Kyle Faiczak, the residence orientation planner for Residence Life.

“[T]he focus is always on the first years . . .  [and] to help students in the long run to make sure they are supported throughout this online environment as much as possible,” said Kyle Faiczak, the residence orientation planner for Residence Life.

The coaches are full-time McMaster staff and the mentors are McMaster undergraduate students. These roles are designed to provide first-year students with one-on-one support, provide resources and referrals to appropriate offices and to foster relationships in the broader McMaster community.

Jonathan Zaslavsky, a fourth-year integrated science student and archway mentor, was initially hired as a residence orientation advisor. With the transition to online orientation programming, he helped create activities and events for Archway. Prior to Welcome Week, he and the other mentors met with their first-year students to encourage them to engage with the programming. Archway’s presence during Welcome Week was limited to avoid overwhelming students. Some mentors were present at the McMaster welcome event as familiar faces who helped connect first-years with faculty representatives. Zaslavsky said that his role during Welcome Week was to support the students through a one-on-one capacity. 

Faiczak has been working to develop content for what he’s calling the McMaster experience by taking typical first-year activities that would take place in-person and redesigning them for a virtual environment. Activities like taking photos at Edwards arch might be recreated as an Instagram filter. Apart from that, he’s worked to support the mentors and will continue to develop programming and adjust priorities as needed by the students. 

Welcome Week

The Student Success Centre and faculty representatives both designed and ran programming for the virtual Welcome Week. Events involved the strategic themes of responsible substance use, sexual violence prevention, response, support, mental health and well-being. Students filled out RSVP forms to receive the necessary links to each event, available through a central Welcome Week website with a schedule of over 200 events. Among the roster of activities were inter-faculty trivia, academic success workshops, international student orientation and a celebration of Black, Indigenous and other students of colour.

The Welcome Week schedule offered a mix of live, on-your-own and multiple session events. Live programming included SSC workshops and faculty socials, while MSU Campus Events hosted solo trivia. Some events were hosted at multiple times to accommodate larger groups and create a more intimate atmosphere, as well as to accommodate different time zones. Both the live and on-your-own events included closed captions. Events were scheduled throughout the day, starting as early as 8 a.m. and last events beginning at 8 p.m. Madeleine Raad, the Welcome Week faculty coordinator stated that both the earliest and latest time slots were the most popular. International students had to take into consideration the time difference when participating in synchronous events.

Students also have the option to watch recordings from many of the academic and student life events that took place during Welcome Week, providing another avenue for participation. Raad said that though participation has been a bit lower this year than the typical in-person welcome week, there were still a lot of engaged and enthusiastic first years. By Sept. 3, there were over 25,000 RSVP forms with 8,000 incoming first-years. Though not every student participated, there were still many students who wanted to be involved in virtual welcome week.

When reached for an interview about the MSU’s involvement with the changes to Welcome Week, MSU President Giancarlo Da-Ré and VP Administration Graeme Noble declined a phone interview.


  • Urszula Sitarz

    Urszula is new to the Silhouette and thrilled to be here! She loves watching Netflix, reading, being outside and spends too much time on Twitter. She is in her last year of Integrated Science and is excited about her thesis in English & Cultural Studies.

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