Students walking outside of STEPS on their way to class. Many first-year students are still unfamiliar with the campus and how to navigate their way around due to limited building access. (Jessica Mellon/B&W Staff)

First-year students face difficulties navigating campus due to limited access to academic buildings

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Academic buildings are still uncharted territory for many first-year students, who have taken most of their classes online. 

An integral part of Lehigh’s orientation experience is learning to navigate campus and find classrooms and lecture halls, but with most classes being online, Office of First-Year Experience Director, Stephanie Burke, said this wasn’t as much of a priority. 

“It wasn’t as much of a focus just knowing the year that we were about to have and it was more of a focus of helping students make connections and think about ways that they can feel supported and take advantage of those resources,” Burke said.

Burke said one of the biggest challenges was not having orientation leaders on campus. 

Orientation Leader Michela Bellapianta, ‘23, said the team had less control than they have had in previous years. She said most of the orientation leaders’ responsibilities regarded providing academic and social support to students, rather than campus navigation. For this reason, some of the usual responsibilities of orientation leaders were given to Gryphons. 

Katherine Stenersen, ‘24, said her Gryphon took her hall on a tour of campus, but this wasn’t true for all first-year students. 

Stenersen said she has a fairly easy time getting around campus, as she frequents her dorm, FML, Zoellner and STEPS, but she suspects it’ll be difficult to find her way through buildings when in-person classes resume. 

“I have no idea what any of the buildings are for,” Stenersen said. “That is the funny thing.”

Maya Fisher, ‘24, is also familiar with central campus buildings, but has the advantage of having had three in-person classes over the course of two semesters. She said she didn’t have trouble finding her way and familiarized herself on her own. 

“I feel like I didn’t have trouble (navigating). I was able to do it myself,” Fisher said. “I think most people were able to do it themselves and I don’t think anyone is frustrated in a sense.”

Burke explained that students benefit differently from orientation and first-year activities, depending on their interest levels.

“You get out what you put in. Some students really enjoyed orientation and got a lot out of it, others maybe not so much,” she said. “That’s true any year, but certainly this year was a bit more challenging.”

Stenersen expressed a similar belief. 

“The opportunities were there, but you really had to initiate it,” Stenersen said. Obviously in this time, there’s not really much more you can do aside from that. So I think, given the circumstances, they did what could be expected of them.” 

According to Burke, students were provided a Course Site page with videos, documents, links, Campus Resource Track, a Draftbook and calendar to use as resources. 

Stenersen said her NavigateLU mentor, provided to her through the program meant to help first-year students adjust to life at Lehigh, really encouraged her to venture out into South Bethlehem and explore some of the restaurants and shops. 

For many of the first-year students, next year will be a first as well. 

“The culture shock that I think the [current]freshman class will face next year is insane,” Stenersen said. I almost feel a little scared for next year because I realize that I have no idea what real college is like.” 

Faculty and staff are aware of the obstacles that lie ahead. Burke said not only is the Office of First Year Experience thinking about these challenges, but also the Dean of Students and Division of Student Affairs. 

While there are no specifics yet, Burke says there will absolutely be support and resources for sophomores next year and that these circumstances are “nothing that we can’t overcome.”

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