New Student Orientation Welcomes Incoming Class of 2022 Virtually with Show-and-Tell Introductions and Breakout Room Activity

(Boston, MA 9/2/20) Incoming CPUA program graduate students come together for a class picture over Zoom. (Photo by Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler)


On Wednesday, September 2nd, BUCPUA hosted its New Student Orientation session for its Fall 2020 incoming graduate students. Graduate students came together over Zoom to meet each other and to learn more about their program. 

The session was hosted by the Director of the City Planning and Urban Affairs program, Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler, and Program Manager, Andrea Ciminelli.

Dr. Dutta-Koehler began the session with a pop quiz: “I want to test your city planning knowledge, if you will. Can anyone tell me what is the city behind me [pointing to her Zoom virtual background]? It’s a very iconic city, with a particular, distinctive type of planning that has inspired many other city forms around the world.”

Aerial view of Barcelona, Spain

The city Dr. Dutta-Koehler referred to is Barcelona, a city with a grid pattern that encloses courtyards in perfect squares for as far as the eye can see.

This wasn’t the only interactive lesson during the orientation session.

After going over the agenda for the day and other logistics, the students introduced themselves with a show-and-tell icebreaker activity. 

Students were asked to choose an object from their everyday life and share it with the class, explaining why it was important to them. Objects included many cups of coffee, plants (chili peppers and succulents, to be exact), inspirational quotes, and even household pets.

The activity was engaging and timely, especially given the coronavirus pandemic which has relegated many students and professors to virtual or remote learning in their own homes.

As Dr. Dutta-Koehler pointed out, “What is really unique about this moment is that this is the first time where we not only see all of you, but at the same time, this is a way for all of us to share our environments.” 

Andrea Ciminelli, the Program Manager for the CPUA, then took over to provide general information, program initiatives, and updates. 

The incoming class of fall 2020 includes 50 degree students, 6 certificate students, and 21 faculty members, said Ciminelli. “This is a very diverse program. CPUA is very interdisciplinary. There are students from all kinds of personal, educational, and professional backgrounds which helps enrich the program because there is so much you are going to learn from each other, in addition your faculty members.”  

Next, Ciminelli explained the unique circumstances this semester surrounding learning under the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Learn from Anywhere is a flexible model for remote and/or in-person learning created by Boston University. Students can decide whether they will take classes in-person on campus or remotely (students can also choose to switch to or from either mode at any time during the semester). Classes will be held in real time, with students participating in class either in-person or virtually through Zoom. Graduate students attending in-person classes are required to get tested for COVID-19 once a week. More information about classes, testing, and other university protocol about COVID-19 can be found on the Back2BU website.

Graduate students in the CPUA program are also encouraged to stay up-to-date on program happenings with the CPUA Program Blackboard course. The Blackboard course will include program information, important forms, and a place for students to ask questions. 

The orientation session came to a close with a group class picture (in this case, a screenshot of the Zoom screen) and a breakout room activity. Students were paired up in small groups to solve a hypothetical urban planning problem. 

The breakout room activity prompt was: You and your group mates have been asked to quarantine in the 2-room Community Center of your neighborhood. Though there is ample supply of basic food and water for the time-being, the group can only take 5 objects with them during isolation. What 5 items would your group choose to take during this indefinite quarantine period that will be potentially useful for survival of all members of the group?

Among the already innovative thinking, some of the more unique five objects students brainstormed were: an arts and crafts box, a kit of spices, exercise equipment, flora and fauna, and a tent for isolation. 

While this year will certainly look different than years prior, the CPUA program is excited to welcome such a creative and talented group of graduate students to the program.  


Anne Jonas, CAS ‘21