When it comes to the fall semester for students of all ages, there is still a lot of uncertainty. For college campuses, it is not only about welcoming students back to classes, but also housing full time students as residents. This year, West Texas A&M University is putting plans in place for a new way to welcome first-time students to campus.

Buff Nation: A Buff Branding and Orientation Event will run August 21 and 22, incorporating new virtual elements as part of a traditional set of kick-off activities.

“Normally, students would have taken part in new student orientation events, but those were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Amanda Lawson, assistant director of orientation. “NSO is an academic orientation program where new freshmen begin to learn skills to be successful at WT, develop a network of support, and understand the differences between high school and college so they may make a successful transition into university life. Because those didn’t happen, we’re folding those activities into our classic Buff Branding events to welcome new students in one great weekend.”

Events for large groups will be held virtually, while other traditional events have been restructured in ways that will allow students face-to-face interaction among both new and current students in a safe and appropriate way. Instead of one program for a large group, students will explore campus in small groups and interact with various departments, student organizations and activities they are interested in.

The Buff Nation program will follow the University’s guidelines in regards to social distancing. Students will be required to wear a face covering in all indoor public areas of campus and in outdoor spaces where 6 feet or more of physical distancing is challenging to maintain. All students at the event will be provided with a reusable canvas mask and a personal bottle of hand sanitizer.

The weekend will culminate with the traditional Branding Ceremony, where new students’ T-shirts are stamped to show that they are now officially Buffaloes, echoing the branding on a cattle drive. This year, for the first time ever, new WT students will be branded by student leaders who, wearing masks, will move from car to car in a drive-in ceremony at Buffalo Sports Park.

"Move-In Day 2020" has been expanded to August 18 through 20, to space out the number of students and families moving into residence halls. Fall classes begin August 24. Because of the ongoing pandemic, many classes will be offered online only or in a hybrid online / face-to-face manner, though in-person classes also will be offered. Masks and social distancing are required in all campus buildings, including classrooms.