SOARing to Success

April 18, 2022

by Abigail Winterburn, Libraries Student Communications Writer

MADISON, Wisc – What’s one of the first places students visit during orientation on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus? Many don’t realize it, but it’s the Libraries!

All students admitted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison are introduced to the campus and campus Libraries during their Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR) session. This orientation helps incoming students learn about campus resources, meet with academic advisors, discuss life on campus, and enroll in classes for the upcoming fall semester. 

So, how did the Libraries become a partner in the SOAR experience? Let’s take a look back. Beginning in the 1980s SOAR was held in the “old” Union South. In 2009 Union South was demolished and rebuilt, SOAR continued to operate out of the “new” Union South. During this time advising sessions had to find temporary locations each year. This left the advising component of SOAR struggling to accommodate the growing incoming classes while competing for campus space as summer programming and construction increased each year. In an effort to improve the process while also being mindful of space constraints on campus, campus leadership began searching for a solution. Through an extensive process, it became clear that the Libraries would be an ideal long-term partner for SOAR. By the summer of 2017, the new partnership between SOAR and the General Library System was in place and SOAR’s advising sessions found a permanent home in College Library.

Chris Verhaeghe, Assistant Director of Orientation

“The SOAR program is fortunate to have such a strong partner in program planning,” says Assistant Director of Orientation Chris Verhaeghe, “having dedicated summer space in the library has allowed the Center for the First-Year Experience (CFYE) staff to focus more on programming and less on the logistics of the program, all thanks to the assistance of the library staff.”

The partnership not only benefits the livelihood of SOAR, but it’s extremely beneficial to UW-Madison students. “Having College Library be one of the buildings students encounter is a huge step in familiarizing them with one of many important academic support resources on campus,” said Director of College Library Carrie Kruse. “We have posters promoting library services and book displays on relevant topics that we think will spark some interest while students are in our spaces. The beautiful views of Lake Mendota leave a lasting impression and we hope being in the library encourages students to return when they begin their studies.” 

Carrie Kruse, Director of College Library, User Experience and Library Spaces

Many undergraduate students don’t realize the impact libraries have on them until after they have gone through SOAR and experienced a semester at the university. 

I attended SOAR in August of 2019. Following the introduction portion of the meeting in Varsity Hall at Union South, we were divided by college and taken to College Library. This was the first time I had been in any campus building. Once we got to the library we were assigned various rooms for advising sessions. Here, we worked with upperclassmen and advisors on creating schedules for the upcoming fall semester. They introduced us to multiple platforms we still use today, including Canvas and MyUW. 

During SOAR I not only learned the ins and outs of scheduling and advising at UW-Madison but I also became very acquainted with the library. In high school, I was never someone that visited the library often or used the various resources that the library offered. However, after SOAR I knew that College Library would be somewhere I would visit often during my time on campus. 

College Library was one of the first university buildings I felt comfortable in and felt confident maneuvering through. Not only was it beneficial to feel comfortable with the building but it was also beneficial to understand all of the advantages that come with the library system. For example, I am a journalism student so I am often instructed to find primary sources for various works. Although you can eventually find primary sources through Google, it is much easier to use the university library websites, visit the library and do some in-person digging to find good scholarly articles, or actually reach out to the librarian on hand to help you. 

School of Business student peer advisor Ryan Jin, an international student from China, meets with incoming first-year undergraduates and helps them to register for their classes using laptop computers during a Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) session at College Library in Helen C. White Hall. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Many students also use the DesignLab that is housed in College Library. DesignLab is a campus resource for students working on digital media projects. It focuses on the conceptual, aesthetic, and overall design of media projects and can be used for various reasons including assignments, independent pieces, and student organizations. 

After my SOAR session in 2019, everything changed. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to move all teachings, large meetings, and orientation sessions online. 

“During the two years of fully virtual SOAR advising, we missed having the energy of the student presence in the library,” said Kruse. Although it was hard to transition to fully virtual sessions, the program ended up benefiting from it. “The one big change from the pandemic experience is that SOAR Advising is now encompassing both virtual and in-person sessions,” Kruse said. This means the advising program is now flexible enough to accommodate any student needs. 

“The most significant change to the SOAR 2022 program will be the split modality being implemented. Domestic freshmen will return to a two-day in-person program while international and transfer students will continue experiencing SOAR as a virtual program,” says Verhaeghe. “Using what we learned through the pandemic we know we can meet the needs of students best through this intentional modality split.” 

Now with the university back to fully in-person work, SOAR is also back home. “We hope students benefit from being back in person and on campus for the entire orientation process,” said CFYE communications coordinator Katie Cummings. “Spending time advising in and exploring College Library is an essential part of the SOAR experience.” 

“After two years of virtual SOAR, the Center for First-Year Experience is excited to return to College Library. Our partnership with the library continues to get stronger year after year,” adds Verhaeghe.

Thanks to SOAR, students will continue to be instantly introduced to the benefits of the Libraries. The chance to become comfortable with campus and campus buildings, while taking advantage of all the library services and resources creates the groundwork for academic success – and excellence – early. 

“Orientation joining forces with the Libraries just makes sense. We’re happy to introduce new students to the libraries and spaces they’ll come to know and love during their academic career,” said Cummings.