Avila Now

September 1, 2021

Avila Welcomes Students Back to Campus

young woman sifts thru plant roots
Welcome Week.

Avila University greeted students back to campus this past week—including the largest first-year class in University history—and marked the occasion with the return of many campus traditions.

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced many events and orientations to be moved online or canceled outright in 2020, Avila introduced new protocols and safeguards for a safer return to many institutional traditions. According to Jason Baldwin, director of Student Life, the modifications meant welcome week activities were not quite the same as previous years but the spirit and excitement shone through regardless.

“We were excited to welcome students back in a safe, in-person environment after being forced to host most of our events online last year due to the pandemic,” he said. “This year we returned to a more traditional Welcome Week schedule, with events available for both in-person and virtual participation.”

The schedule included numerous social activities, in addition to orientation sessions for first- and second-year students. The latter session has been added this year to help acclimate students who began their Avila career remotely. Persistence Specialist Maya Tilmon said feedback from student panels and the numerous new services offered by Avila’s Student Success Center led to it being introduced.

“We added the re-orientation session for students who weren’t on campus last year—their first year was mostly online and this gave us a chance to introduce them to the on-campus lifestyle here at Avila,” Tilmon said. “We have also added several new student-centric offices and staff members who are here to work with students and this was an opportunity to expose them to those resources.”

Activities like Convocare and the Community Plunge–which also traditionally take place in the first days of the semester–were some of the first opportunities to immerse Avila students in the values that bind together past and present Avila students, according to Dave Armstrong, CSJA, director of University Mission and Ministry.

“The Community Plunge service trip has been a great opportunity for our students to get to know each other outside of the classroom and to see the importance of service at Avila,” Armstrong said. “I’ve had countless students come back and tell me that they still remember the experience fondly—some meet their best friend on the trip or talk about how they learned how valuable service could be.”

As part of the First-Year Experience seminar, incoming students are introduced to the University value of Service with the Dear Neighbor via the Community Plunge service trip. Since 2003, Avila’s incoming students have made an annual trip to Harvesters – The Community Food Network, where they have now packed more than 1.1 million meals, including 10,000 backpack snacks for area children.

The changes forced by the pandemic allowed students to work with an array of service organizations across Kansas City. In addition to the groups that went to Harvesters, students also worked at Jerusalem Farm in downtown Kansas City and the Avila Community Gardens. Smaller groups went to each location, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, to ensure the groups met social distancing protocols.

“We weren’t able to do this last year, and we were very excited to be reintroducing it to our new students,” Armstrong said. “While the groups were smaller than the 200 plus students we’ve typically taken to Harvesters, we were still able to take smaller groups of 40 to each location. It also allows us to show students other organizations and causes that Avila partners with, which was a great way to show the breadth of our impact in our community.”

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