In 2009 Dr Jacques van der Meer brought together a group of interested staff from around the university to attend an “Enhancing first-year students’ academic experiences" colloquium. One of the ideas that developed from this was the creation of an orientation programme for the non-residential first year students at the university.
In 2011 the first orientation programme was launched with the help of a large number of supportive staff from around the University, coordinated by the Student Learning Development Office (SLD), and supported by the Otago University Students Association (OUSA). It was this year that the name ‘Locals’ originated and has since been used to describe the group of students who live in the local community: flatting, boarding, or living at home. This programme gave the students a sense of identity, with locals branded t-shirts, and access to events such as UniSmart and Sports day that were previously only accessible to students in a college. Locals also had their own academic orientation (StudySmart), designed to introduce them to the academic support available at the University and to provide them an established student as a mentor during their first six weeks.
Since 2011 the Locals orientation has expanded with a Locals Amazing Race around campus, Locals presence in Tent City and the Support Services Expo, greater participation and success at Sports Day, and a Pre-Toga event.
In 2013, in addition to the orientation programme, a Locals Peer Programme was developed. This programme was designed to support academic success for Local Students who originated from one of the 12 local high schools. Five students from each of the local Dunedin high schools were nominated by their schools to participate in this pilot, which involved activities throughout the academic year such as PASS for Locals, study skills sessions, mentoring groups, and social activities. A Locals website and Facebook page were started to support the programme. This pilot was hugely successful, and many of these students returned to their alma maters to highlight their Otago experiences, hosted high school students for a day on campus, and became Leaders for the following years cohort. One of these students went on to become the current Deputy Head of the programme.
Late in 2013 a proposal to extend the Locals Peer Programme was put forward and accepted. This extension enabled the employment of a Coordinator and senior staff members, as well as a space for Locals students on campus (Locals HQ). These staff meant that the number of students nominated could be increased to 10 students, but as the popularity of the programme grew this was extended to allow anyone who asked to be included in the programme.
Locals is now open to all students living in the local community. There is now a full time Deputy Head, a Locals Programme Assistant, and three experienced volunteer staff members to run the three main aspects of the programme: academic, volunteer, and social. The programme continues to grow year by year, with new initiatives being added such as the annual Locals ball. Locals is now an active member of the collegiate community at Otago. Members of Locals participate in the Inter-college Sports, Cultural, and Gaming competitions, and Locals’ staff actively contribute to the organisation of these events and to the unique collegiate way at Otago.