While it doesn’t look how it usually does, Discover Week, the annual welcome event for new students at Case Western Reserve University is underway. The Class of 2024 and transfer students arrived on campus this weekend in a routine that looked very different than in years past, marked by temperature checks and scheduled move-in slots.

Now, the newest members of the Case Western Reserve community will spend the next few days acclimating themselves to campus. Though Discover Week is typically a seven-day affair, this year it will be just three days, shortened to allow more time for students to move in safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Programming will be both in person and virtual, accounting for students who could not or chose not to come to campus for fall semester.

Two key programs that bring together new students each year—the university welcome and the Discover Week kickoff and tradition—were switched to livestreamed offerings. The welcome was held yesterday (Aug. 16) and the kickoff and tradition will be Wednesday, Aug. 19. 

Forming connections is a hallmark of Discover Week, and despite geographical barriers and safety precautions that keep them apart, students will have the chance to get to know one another before starting classes.

Small orientation groups help students make connections with one another in their earliest days on campus. Those groups will be pared down to just 15 students with at least two orientation leaders per group. Some of the groups will be composed of students who are all on campus, some will include both on-campus and remote students, and others will consist of all remote students, accounting for those in different time zones. New students also can build connections through The Discover Network, a digital platform powered by Wisr. Through this network, students will be organized into smaller groups based on their orientation groups and have the chance to participate in some affinity groups to bond over shared interests.

“I think that The Discover Network will be a huge opportunity for students to connect in a digital space, especially for students who are remote this fall,” said Kathy Petras, director of orientation.

Sessions for Discover Week staples like bystander training and Discover 360 will take on virtual formats. The Information Fair and Activities Fair, two events to help new students learn about available resources and opportunities to get involved, will be offered online through CampusGroups, through which students can stop by virtual “booths” to meet with representatives from organizations and campus offices. And the Dear World program will help students get to know one another by sharing their stories with one another.

Other programming will have in-person components, albeit in revised formats. Students still will have the chance to explore Cleveland, but the excursions will be virtual or within walking distance of campus. Virtual options include opportunities to discover Edgewater Beach and Gordon Square, while on-campus students can visit the Cleveland Botanical Gardens or participate in a scavenger hunt on campus. 

Students also will engage in service opportunities as in years past, with opportunities to contribute virtually or in person. For example, students can read and record books in the public domain for LibriVox or, if on campus, they can make fleece blankets for children through Project Linus.

Petras recognized things will feel unusual this year—because they are. But, as in every year, she hopes students will feel as though they are a part of something, and that goes beyond offering them T-shirts and buttons. Orientation leaders are trained on how to lead with empathy.

“We make them feel special by recognizing who they are as human beings and that we value them as part of our community,” Petras said. “That can come in many forms but I do believe it is at the core of how we execute our program.”