Connections from Six Feet Apart

PROVO, Utah – Nov 02, 2020 – Each September, the BYU Marriott School of Business’s Department of Experience Design and Management (ExDM) welcomes its new cohort with an annual new student orientation (NSO). In the past, the orientation has included a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where new students meet and bond with fellow members of the ExDM program. Although this year’s circumstances were different because of COVID-19, thanks to the hard work of many faculty, staff, and students, ExDM’s Fall 2020 NSO was one that will never be forgotten.

In March 2020 when BYU campus was shut down due to health and safety concerns, the ExDM department immediately began evaluating whether or not it would be permitted to hold its annual NSO later in the year. The ExDM NSO is a crucial event because it helps the new cohorts feel like they are connected both to the program and to one another.

“New student orientation has two goals: introducing our department to the new cohorts and offering a space to create a community for our newest students—a community that counts on and supports them during their time here at BYU,” says Ari Mateu, ExDM’s chief student experience officer. “Although few events were approved by BYU to take place, we were told that there was a slim chance we could go back to campus to welcome our new incoming cohort. It was all hands on deck to turn that chance into reality.”

Everyone in the ExDM department, from the office manager to the brand ambassadors, rolled up their sleeves to ensure the new NSO passed BYU’s event-approval request. The team not only had to make sure the event was socially distanced and sanitary but that it also met the goals of the traditional NSO. “The ExDM team typically takes the kids whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole, because it is one of the best activities to encourage bonding within a group,” says ExDM professor Brian Hill, who oversaw the activity. “The students have to learn to paddle together and pay attention to each other. They get to know each other in a more personal way. Overall, visiting Jackson Hole or nearby Grand Teton National Park tends to enhance emotion, which creates a memorable experience. We wanted to figure out how to create that same type of experience while staying on campus.”

The ExDM department made sure the entire event followed local health and safety guidelines, including mandatory mask-wearing and standing six feet apart at all times. “Every station had a health officer, which was someone wearing a bright, yellow safety vest,” says Amanda Everson, ExDM senior and brand ambassador from Maple Grove, MN. Brand ambassadors are rising senior ExDM students who support the program and help plan ExDM events. “The health officer’s role was to make sure everyone stayed socially distanced. Students thought the vest was a quirky but important way to just remind students to stay six feet apart.”

All that effort paid off. A few weeks after submitting the event plans, ExDM NSO 2020 was approved. Everyone began gearing up for the big day.

On 12 September 2020, the ExDM team converted the Joseph Fielding Smith Building (JFSB) at BYU into its main hub for a day. New ExDM students, with smiles hidden behind masks, were greeted in the JFSB quad with blue taped squares indicating where to stand. In the quad, BYU Marriott Dean Brigitte C. Madrian gave an inspiring speech and encouraged students to follow the health guidelines. The one hundred students were then paired into six groups and sent around campus to complete tasks. At each station, a staff or faculty member welcomed the students, provided information about the program, and explained a task.

Each of the activities were designed to help students bond with their teammates. A student favorite was the ice cream station, where each team of students was asked to consume an entire half-gallon of the BYU Creamery favorite, Graham Canyon. One student was a designated scooper and would dish servings to members of the team. Another favorite was the bowling station where students had to hit ten strikes as a team on a mini bowling set as fast as they could.

ExDM team members say this experience helped them see a new way of doing things that may be better than the old way. “The ExDM department is considering doing an on campus new student orientation every fall semester and then doing our Jackson Hole trip between the students’ junior and senior years,” says Hill. “By staying on campus, the new student orientation can be simplified and focus on giving students information in a fun way. Then, as a way to reinvigorate that second year and get the students excited about their senior year, we will go to Jackson Hole. This may be a change for the better.”

The ExDM team felt like the students still connected with one another, even while standing six feet apart. “Seeing people enjoy themselves the way I did last year at Jackson Hole, even though it was in a different format, was so fun,” says Everson. “This year we still brought the connection to the students that they needed amid this crazy time.”

The new ExDM cohort gathered for a distanced new student orientation.
The newly enrolled Fall 2020 ExDM cohort gathered for a distanced new student orientation activity at BYU.

Media Contact: Chad Little: (801) 422-1512
Writer: Madi Wickham