Annual Report

Vision Statement

To be globally recognized and at the forefront of innovation in higher education for empowering students and creating a seamless transition for all.

Mission Statement

To introduce and connect all new undergraduate students to Purdue University through student- and staff-led academic and social programming, both on campus and virtual, to prepare them for their Purdue experience.

Program Elements

The Orientation Programs office provides a series of experiences that facilitate the transition of undergraduate students to Purdue, and the opportunity for student leadership.

  • Boiler Gold Rush (BGR) – Established in 1993 as CORN (Collegians Orientating Residential Newcomers) Camp, and as Boiler Gold Rush since 1995, BGR is Purdue’s fall orientation program. BGR takes place in and out of the classroom the week before the fall term in August and is open to all new first-year and transfer students. BGR served nearly 7,000 new students in 2020, with nearly 6,200 residential, and over 700 online, registrants.
  • Boiler Gold Rush International (BGRi) – Established in 2012, BGRi is a supplemental program that supports the transition, adjustment and acculturation of international students in the days prior to Boiler Gold Rush in August. BGRi served 85 residential and 444 virtual registrants in 2020.
  • Pre-Arrival Homework – This online course facilitated through Purdue's Learning Management System introduces students to a wide variety of topics (Growth Mindset, Leadership and Professional Development, Diversity and Intercultural Awareness, etc.) in an effort to engage all students in this content prior to the start of their first term.
  • Summer Transition, Advising and Registration (STAR) – Formerly “Day on Campus,” STAR began in 2009 and is a series of one-day programs that take place in June and July during which new undergraduate students connect with and learn from campus resources, receive academic advice, and pre-register for fall courses. STAR is available for all undergraduate students, with specific days devoted to Transfer, Summer Start, and Early Start students. On April 6, 2020, Purdue University announced that all new students would participate in Virtual STAR (VSTAR) rather than come to campus for STAR, forcing cancellation of 2,427 registrations for the on-campus STAR program.
  • Virtual STAR (VSTAR) – Launched in 2013, VSTAR is the online equivalent of STAR that connects students to their academic College and important University resources in the event they cannot attend the program on campus. VSTAR is available to summer and fall beginning students from May to late August, and January beginning students from November to January. On April 6, 2020, Purdue University announced that all new students would participate in VSTAR because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Student Leadership Experiences – Undergraduate students can apply to participate in volunteer and paid opportunities that work closely with new students, including STAR Ambassador (paid), BGR/i Team Leader (volunteer), BGR/i Team Supervisor (volunteer), and BGR/i Student Orientation Committee member (paid). In 2020, no STAR Ambassadors were hired for the summer, and all Student Orientation Committee members were given the option to work over the summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Notable Changes

While many barriers existed in programming during the 2019-20 academic year because of COVID-19, this was the first full academic year where five full-time professionals staffed the Orientation Programs team. This provided many opportunities to create, grow, and pivot elements of Orientation Programs experiences throughout the academic year.

COVID-19 Response

In March 2020, Purdue made the decision to shift all instruction and assessment to be online in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. This caused us to change our work in the following ways:

  • In the days leading up to the university announcement, plans were being put in place to pivot the summer STAR program. On April 6, 2020, Purdue University announced that all new students would participate in VSTAR because of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing cancellation of 2,427 registrations for the on-campus STAR program.
  • A two-year commitment of planning for the 2020 NODA Regional Conference resulted in a cancellation of the on-campus program. Students and professionals from NODA’s Region VII (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario) planned to travel to Purdue University for the conference from Friday, March 13 to Sunday, March 15. The conference was canceled on Wednesday, March 11 and converted to a virtual format that launched for four NODA regions on Friday, April 24.
  • The Orientation Programs team began to work remote starting Tuesday, March 17 and returned to work on-campus in preparation for Boiler Gold Rush on Monday, July 27.
  • While staff training dates remained (aside from a cancelled Team Leader Retreat), all content shifted into a virtual format. Tuesday, March 24 was the first of four online Team Supervisor trainings for BGR and BGRi staff members in March and April. Newly selected Team Leaders received notification on Friday, March 6, but did not meet in person with other BGR staff until training in August. They completed three virtual trainings in April.
  • GS 210 courses shifted into a fully online format for Team Supervisors starting Monday, March 23 and for the remainder of the spring semester.
  • STAR Ambassadors were initially hired on March 12, but their offers were rescinded on April 6 as the university shifted to a full VSTAR format.
  • Several August training events shifted to support live streaming in multiple venues, as well, to maintain proper social distancing and follow Protect Purdue guidelines for safety.
  • Two NODA Interns, Xiao Yun Sim (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and Corey Hayes (Ohio University), were hired to assist with preparation for Boiler Gold Rush. The two graduate students, originally hired for an on-campus experience during STAR, had their experience delayed, shifted to help with Boiler Gold Rush, and was done fully remote.
  • Move-in for BGR and BGRi took place over five days, from Friday, Aug. 14 through Tuesday, Aug. 18, in an effort to adhere to Protect Purdue guidelines.
  • Orientation Programs staff members contributed to the support of university functions in response to COVID-19:
    • Craig Johnson served on the committee for the development of the Student Safety Training, delivered for safety clearance of all residential students at Purdue.
    • Virginia Cabrera (Building Community, Student Organization Events) and Todd Braverman (CoCurricular Student Learning/Career Development) served as members of sub-teams of the Safe Campus Task Force’s Student Experience committee.
    • Craig Johnson facilitated a live webinar discussion with university administrators for students and families with questions about the fall online learners’ experience.

Summer Transition, Advising and Registration (STAR) and Virtual STAR (VSTAR)

  • On April 6, 2020, Purdue University announced that all new students would participate in Virtual STAR (VSTAR) rather than come to campus for STAR, forcing cancellation of 2,427 registrations for the oncampus STAR program.
  • With the cancellation of the STAR program, all students were automatically enrolled in VSTAR after accepting their offer of admission.
  • VSTAR transitioned from Blackboard Learn to Brightspace as part of the university’s move to a new Learning Management System and launched for all students Monday, May 11.
  • In conjunction with University Undergraduate Academic Advising, a “Certificate of Completion” was added to the end of VSTAR as a mechanism for advisors to know which students completed VSTAR. Advisors were recommended, then, to contact students through BoilerConnect for appointment scheduling.
  • “VSTAR Live” launched. This series of live webinars were hosted with the intent of having conversations with faculty, staff, and students for incoming students and their families. Fourteen sessions were held live from May 5 to Aug. 4 on three different platforms (Orientation Programs website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel) yielding over 6,000 concurrent live viewers, and over 42,000 views overall (15,000+ views on YouTube and 27,000+ on Facebook).
  • The Orientation Programs website changed significantly, most notably adding pages that included (1) archives of all new student emails from Orientation Programs as a reference point for students and campus partners, (2) a landing page to all “VSTAR Live” video sessions, and (3) a parent-focused public access version of VSTAR. More information about the Orientation Programs website and its impact can be found in the Our Data and Appendix sections.
  • Continued partnership with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) provided material review (video captioning, presentation and document accessibility checks) to ensure all VSTAR materials for students were formatted with accessibility in mind.
  • New and more intentional partnerships were formed from other units on campus (ITAP Video and Multimedia Production Services, Enrollment Management Communications, University Undergraduate Academic Advising, IDA+A, among others).

Boiler Gold Rush (BGR) and Boiler Gold Rush International (BGRi)

  • In direct response to COVID-19, BGRi programming shifted to the week of Boiler Gold Rush as a “track” instead of its own supplemental pre-BGR program. Adhering to the revised university guest policy, no programming was offered on-campus for guests of BGRi participants.
  • Move-in for BGR and BGRi took place over five days, from Friday, Aug. 14 through Tuesday, Aug. 18, in an effort to adhere to Protect Purdue guidelines.
  • Additionally, a fully online option for BGR and BGRi was added to support the 700+ new students and 50+ student volunteers part of the Online learning option for Fall 2020. This option was at no cost to the student and interactions were held in WebEx. All BGR and BGRi participants, both residential and online, were added to one BGR Brightspace course.
  • All large content sessions were held virtually, most delivered live in a broadcast to YouTube, Kaltura, or BoilerTV, with support of Hall of Music and ITAP Video and Multimedia Production Services.
  • Check-in for BGR and BGRi was centralized in the Co-Rec Black and Gold Gyms, where separate processes for on-campus and off-campus students took place over the five days of move-in. Off-campus students were temperature checked and received their Protect Purdue kits at check-in.
  • After nearly two years of development, the functionality to (1) sort new students to Team Leaders and (2) check-in new students into BGR fully transitioned to a new online system. • Two NODA Interns worked fully remote to support efforts for BGR and BGRi.
  • Several BGR sessions (Interest Sessions, Academic Preview Sessions, Religious events, student organization offerings) and were centralized and rebranded as “Boiler Breakouts”, with over 300 individual event offerings.
  • During the summer, focus group and affinity-based group dialogue opportunities were hosted for student staff members to engage in discussion of current events and their impact on orientation.
  • BGR staff training was conducted in both synchronous and asynchronous ways and overlapped directly with BGR move-in. BGR staff were split between on-site support at move-in and check-in, and working in small groups to conduct training. All staff engaged in sessions held in separate lecture halls in the evening after four of the move-in days.
  • In tandem with the Purdue Promise program, over $160,000 of fee waivers were awarded to students who demonstrated financial need in order for them to attend Boiler Gold Rush in person for half or no cost to the student.

Orientation Programs Team

  • Members of the Orientation Programs team, led by colleagues across Student Success Programs and Enrollment Management Communications, conducted a comprehensive stakeholder intake process to better understand Purdue systems involved in the communication process for new students from admission through orientation. The “Mapping the Customer Journey” project showed the number of communications for different types of students from non-academic units on campus. This process greatly informed the method and type of communication offered from Orientation Programs in 2020.
  • Several relationships were improved and created in an effort to establish more coordinated efforts in the yield process of new students (with Enrollment Management Communications, Information Technology at Purdue, IDA+A).
  • Social media accounts using the “@boilergoldrush” handle were discontinued. The transition to a new handle “@allaboardpurdue” was made in an effort to provide more unity across all programs and social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tik Tok). Information about engagement across social media platforms can be seen in the “Our Data” and “Appendix” sections of this report.
  • The Orientation Programs professional staff maintained active status in NODA, the Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention in Higher Education
    • The office fulfilled their two-year commitment as host institution for the 2020 NODA Regional Conference; the conference transitioned from being held at Purdue University to a virtual environment in March.
    • Virginia Cabrera served her second year as Co-Chair for the NODA International Student Network, a two-year term leading NODA members in conversations and professional development about intercultural and international student programs, services, and best practices.
  • The Orientation Programs professional staff furthered contributions to the field of orientation, transition, and retention through on-campus and professional presentations, and continuing education:
    • Virginia Cabrera began studies in the College of Education at Purdue University in pursuit of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Curriculum Studies
    • Todd Braverman completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree through Purdue Global
    • Cam Hoyt and Estavian Ward participated in the Orientation Professionals Institute (OPI) at the NODA Annual Conference in Houston, Texas.

Our Data

Student Participation Retention

To view all data, statistics, and graphs, please download the Orientation Programs Report PDF.


“The research on orientation clearly indicates that successful orientation programs have a powerful influence on first-year social and academic integration and, furthermore, that social and academic integration have a significant effect on student persistence and educational attainment” (Rode, 2000, p. 3)

Rode, D. (2000). The role of orientation in institutional retention. In M.J. Fabich (Ed.) Orientation planning manual 2000. Pullman, WA: NODA.

This connection between orientation and retention is no different at Purdue University than what the research above suggests. As indicated by the charts listed in the Appendix (Charts 1, 2, 3 and 4), retention and graduation rates for students who participate in STAR, VSTAR, BGR, and/or BGRi are higher than their peers who do not participate.

Additional data shows that participating in more than one program increases the likelihood of retention at a greater rate than their non- or single- participating peers (Chart 4).

Program Assessment

  • Pre-post assessment methods were adopted to fully assess the impact of VSTAR, BGR, and BGRi in an effort to further understand the impact of Orientation Programs on the new student experience. 7,731 (79.9%) participated in a pre-VSTAR survey, 4,833 (49.9%) in a post-VSTAR survey, and 2873 (29.7%) in a post-BGR/BGRi survey.
  • A total of 1203 students who provided valid responses to both VSTAR Pre and Post and BGR Surveys. Measurements of sense of belonging, preparedness, independence, understanding of academic rigor and being a student at Purdue were collected at the 3 data points in VSTAR and BGR.
  • Data reveals that students’ agreement levels on the statement “I feel connected to Purdue University,” on a scale from Strongly Agree to Agree, varied at 3 data points, but the overall agreement level increased during VSTAR and BGR – from 78% (pre-VSTAR) to 86% (post-VSTAR) to 87% (post-BGR).
  • Data was also collected on session satisfaction by program, and broken down by several demographics (College, Ethnicity, Gender, others) to develop a comprehensive understanding of the impact of Orientation Programs.

Engagement and Retention

Orientation Programs Website

  • Due to a lack of an equal amount of data, we do not know if more or less people visited the site than last year. However, the timeline of visitors seems to imply that May was a much bigger time for Orientation website usage than any other time of year, as compared to a similar pattern in Mid-August of 2019. This comparison can be seen in Chart 5 in the Appendix.
  • Users came to the website from social media posts at a much higher rate this year than last year. Roughly 10.6% of users found the site via social media (84% of those were from Facebook, 6% from Twitter, 4% from Instagram, and the rest from YouTube and LinkedIn) as compared to only 4% last year.
  • The average user spent 3:05 (3 minutes, 5 seconds) on the website during this time period, as compared to 2:53 during the same time period in 2019. They were also more likely to come back for a second visit, as shown by the fact that the ‘Average # of Sessions per User” jumped from 1.6 to 1.9.
  • Of the new pages that were created, a few stand out as statistically significant. Not surprisingly, the most significant was the “VSTAR Live” page. During this time period, the VSTAR Live page was the most viewed page on the website, receiving over 43,000 views between April and August. For reference, the website’s Home Page, which was previously the most viewed page on the site, received only 5,700 views over the same time period. (Chart 6, Appendix)
  • The other new, and likely one-time-use page was the ‘VSTAR for Parents’ page. In 2020, it received about 3,200 views, and users spent between 6-7 minutes reading its content (compared to the site average of about 2:22 per page). (Chart 6, Appendix)
  • During the summer of 2020, people from all around the world were visiting the site. In fact, we received online visitors from 118 different countries (top ten listed below). This is a huge increase from the 90 countries that were represented in last year’s data. (Chart 7, Appendix)

Social Media

  • Orientation Programs currently uses four main social media platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. These accounts started in January 2020 when Orientation Programs decided to switch all platforms from the username @boilergoldrush to @allaboardpurdue. A Youtube Channel (Purdue University Orientation programs) is also utilized and has been active since 2015.
  • When it comes to trends within our most successful posts, we saw three themes emerge: the student profile, storytelling (both positive and negative), and live information sessions.
    • Student Profile: Our followers truly engaged when they had the opportunity to hear from current students who are just like them.
    • Story Telling: Instagram Take-Overs highlighted our Student Orientation Committee where they were able to share their Purdue journey. Each week leading up to BGR one SOC member would “take over” Instagram for a full day. They shared successes and failures at Purdue, and highlighted other offices including: The Disability Resource Center (DRC), The Black Cultural Center (BCC), The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Center (LGBTQ), Purdue Dining & Culinary, Purdue Academic Success Center (ASC), Purdue Bands & Orchestras, and many more.
    • Live Session: Orientation Programs hosted live sessions regarding various topics, including but not limited to Housing and Residential Life, Academic Advising, International Students and Scholars (ISS), and Introduction to VSTAR & BGR. These sessions produced high engagement both during the live component and after. Our live sessions were streamed through Facebook, YouTube Live and our website.

Email Communications

  • Slate is a comprehensive platform for admissions and enrollment management, student success, and alumni/advancement. At Purdue, it serves as the primary vehicle for communications with new students and family members during the admissions and yield processes.
  • Ten messages were sent to incoming students from April 8 to July 24 to a population on average of 9,789 per message, and an average of 66,883 opens per message. In total, messages were opened 668,834 times coming from 91,936 unique user interactions. More information on this can be seen on Chart 8 in the Appendix.
  • Delivra is a sophisticated email platform that designs custom solutions to help marketers and agencies automate highly personalized email communications. Orientation Programs used Delivra to communicate specific updates to a contact list of campus partners throughout the summer.
  • All messages sent to new students and partners were posted on the Orientation Programs website as an archive and reference point for all.

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