| by Jason Warburg

News Stories

Woman wearing masks stands across a table from a younger person wearing a mask
Director of Residential Life Saiya Yanagihashi helps Mallory Hoffbeck MAIEP ’23 check into the new Munras housing during Welcome Week for fall 2021. 

The Middlebury Institute welcomed 347 new students from 33 countries last week with an innovative series of virtual gatherings that preserved revered institutional traditions while adapting the entire Welcome Week slate of orientation events to current conditions.

With travel challenging for many international students and a number of students still in the process of meeting the Institute’s vaccination requirements for in-person instruction, most events were held online. “We initially hoped to have at least a couple of in-person events during Welcome Week, but made the decision to adjust our plans,” says Associate Dean of Student Services Ashley Arrocha. “We appreciate that students recognize the unique circumstances, and we made every effort to ensure Welcome Week offered incoming students the chance to begin their graduate experience with a strong foundation of knowledge and information, as well as a strong sense of community.” 

Under the Institute’s COVID policy, proof of vaccination or an approved exemption is required for all students, faculty, and staff who wish to be present on campus. For the fall semester, students can take classes in person and/or remotely—roughly 75 percent of students expect to participate in classes in person, with the remainder planning to join their classes virtually.

“The orientation sessions have been really informative and well-organized,” says incoming student Jordyn Dezago MATESOL ’23. “All of the staff and faculty at MIIS have been incredibly receptive and supportive—they always take the time to answer questions, meet with us individually, and make us feel welcome in any way they can. The sessions are definitely giving us tools to be successful here at MIIS, and I appreciate everything that is being done to make information as accessible as possible.” 

Leading up to Welcome Week, all incoming students completed the Getting Started at MIIS virtual course. The week’s opening session on August 30 featured welcoming remarks from Dean of the Institute Jeff Dayton-Johnson and Student Council President Morgan Moore, as well as a video recreation of the traditional flag procession, with Professor Michael Gillen playing bagpipes in front of a backdrop of flags as each homeland represented by an incoming student was highlighted on a map.

More than 250 students logged on for the opening session, which also included recorded messages of advice and encouragement from second-year students. “You are not too late or too early to attend graduate school!” assured second-year student Lina Lyn MATI ’22. “Everyone has a unique path and operates in their own time zone. So you are exactly on time and have no need to compare yourself with others. Be bold and fearless, because you are stronger than you think.”

All of the staff and faculty at MIIS have been incredibly receptive and supportive—they always take the time to answer questions, meet with us individually, and make us feel welcome in any way they can.
— Jordyn Dezago MATESOL ’23

Following the opening session, incoming students moved through a series of sessions tailored for each individual academic program. For example, on Monday afternoon students in the MA in International Environmental Policy (IEP) program participated in an IEP program welcome session, before moving on Tuesday into sessions addressing financial aid, technology, library resources, student life, and career advising.

“The student financial services session was very helpful,” says incoming student Irene Fernald MAIEP ’23. “It was also run very efficiently, and they answered tons of questions that students had that were relevant to everyone.” Dezago singled out for praise the elective sessions on microaggressions (“incredibly powerful and insightful”) and Green Dot training (“very helpful and informative”).

The one feature of a normal Welcome Week that remained somewhat intact was small-group, in-person campus tours. Even that required adaptation, noted Arrocha, as tours have historically been led by second-year students—but this year’s cohort of second-year students has never attended classes on campus. Tours were led by staff instead, and both Fernald and Dezago agreed that the tours “made me feel familiar with campus and excited to study here!”

A more recent element of Welcome Week is a peer-to-peer support program in which incoming students have been placed in small groups representative of the incoming student cohort in terms of both demographics and programs of study. Each group has a trained current student facilitator with a plan for engagement through the fall semester, and each facilitator introduced themselves in a video during the opening session. The week concluded with a plenary session featuring remarks by Deans Laura Burian and Fernando DePaolis, followed by a series of video messages from Institute alumni offering their advice on how to get the most out of the MIIS experience.

“The online format was nice as it gave me the flexibility to schedule free time throughout this week for moving in and getting used to Monterey,” says Fernald. “It’s also good to know that most of us are on the same page going into the semester, especially in terms of holding one another to high standards of academic integrity and being conscious of the intercultural dynamics we will encounter at MIIS. I feel now that I’m aware of the support systems at MIIS and have the tools I need.“ 

“Students who choose to come to MIIS are typically adaptable, adventurous people who tackle challenges with enthusiasm and creative problem-solving,” notes Dayton-Johnson. “It’s kind of the nature of our programs. The engagement and performance of our incoming class this past week is a strong indicator of how successful they are going to be both here at the Institute and in their future careers.”