‘Community of advisors’ works to create more accessible materials for Purdue’s second fully Virtual STAR program, which begins May 10

It was right around this time last year when Purdue’s plans to deliver an on-campus STAR (Student Transition, Advising and Registration) program came to an abrupt halt.

In May, during a traditional year, staff across Purdue’s campus would be solidifying plans to welcome more than 7,000 new and transfer students, plus about 10,000 guests, over the course of five consecutive weeks. But instead of preparing for the traditional on-campus program, staff were having internal conversations about how to scale up their Virtual STAR program, which for many years had introduced international students to Purdue in lieu of a daylong visit.

“Everybody was kind of in a tailspin last year, as we were already in the midst of preparing for STAR, and then we had to make an abrupt shift to VSTAR and get all our materials together,” said Shelly Opperman, an academic advisor in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

VSTAR begins on May 10th - graphic

This year’s VSTAR program – which for the second year will be mandatory for all new and transfer Purdue students – will run from May 10 through June 30. This year, several campus partners have been working intentionally to implement lessons learned from last year, particularly related to making VSTAR materials more accessible and helpful for students and their families.

“We have always had accessibility in mind when developing VSTAR materials, and we’ve taken different approaches every year,” says Craig Johnson, director of Orientation Programs. “This year, we were more specific. Our hope was to create a community of advisors who were in charge of putting content together. We wanted to establish a clear set of expectations about what we wanted different colleges to cover, and then we gave them different tools from the outset about how to go about making suggested changes.”

Johnson said his team worked with Purdue’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) and Purdue’s Center for Instructional Excellence (CIE) to provide guidance and feedback about the accessibility of departmental materials to improve the VSTAR experience for all.

Opperman was one of several academic advisors to take part in virtual accessibility training sessions, hosted by Orientation Programs and Purdue’s DRC. Although the goal was to discuss technical ways to present printed, written, or visual material so that people who do not read print can access it – Opperman said the discussions were also helpful in thinking about the substance of the materials overall.

“The goal of the VSTAR materials is to provide students and anyone supporting them with the best and most important information in a timely manner,” Opperman said. “Of course, we wanted to convey a lot of information, but we found that the number of words on some of the former slides was overwhelming.

These conversations led Opperman and her colleagues to remove substantial content from their department-specific presentation after verifying it would be covered during other points in students’ transition to Purdue.

“We all have a piece of the responsibility to provide accessible materials, and to provide accessible course instruction, as well as a seamless new student experience,” Opperman says. “As an academic advisor, as a conduit between a student and the University, that certainly is our responsibility. I think offering an accessible Virtual STAR experience helps establish a precedent that Purdue is a welcoming, diverse community, and that we welcome all students on our campus.” 

Sandy Monroe, executive director of university undergraduate academic advising, says the pandemic created labor-intensive demands for both students and advisors, and that many of those challenges linger even in the second year of a fully virtual STAR program. Accessibility is one area of focus, Monroe says. Beyond that, she adds, students need to be listened to, and guidance to them needs to be delivered with a tone and tenor that conveys they are cared for.

“It is important that the interactions and information is consistent, clear, interpersonally sensitive, and caring,” Monroe says. “We all want to help students feel that they are connected to the campus community, can be themselves, and feel as though they belong.” 

To learn more about this year’s program, visit the VSTAR website. You can also watch upcoming VSTAR Live sessions, which are intended to help students and guests learn about a range of orientation and transition topics. These sessions will be hosted weekly throughout May and June. Each synchronous session will be available on the Orientation Programs  YouTube channel and  website

Writer: Andrea Mattingly, communication director for Student Success Programs, andrea@purdue.edu

Last updated: May 4, 2021

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