All Hands on Deck >>
Admission team works to ‘get the Emory spirit into the virtual world’
By Mary Loftus | Emory Report | July 13, 2020
Shifting campus visits online is just one way the admission team has continued to make Emory accessible for students and their families. The experience included information session videos paired with a live Q&A session with admission counselors (such as senior associate dean Timothy Fields, shown here) to answer questions from families tuning in from around the world.
Emory’s campus, like university campuses around the country, is subdued this summer. A family takes a bike ride near Lullwater, Kaldi’s Coffee in the Depot is open for takeout and delivery, limited essential staff are on hand for tasks that can’t be done from home and preparations for the construction of a new Rollins School of Public Health building have begun.
But a lot is going on behind the scenes that isn’t immediately visible — especially by the Emory Office of Undergraduate Admission staff.
“We learned so much in the spring about how students and families would engage with our office in this new virtual format,” says Lisa Coetzee, director of enrollment marketing and communications for Emory’s Office of Admission.
“It’s given us a strong foundation to build on as we move into the summer and plan for fall virtual engagement with prospective students and their families, high school counselors and community-based organizations. We are exploring many new opportunities and we’re excited to see what the future holds.”
Students accepted to the Emory Class of 2024 were able to take campus tours, listen to faculty lectures, see their housing options and talk to current students one-on-one.
For the most part, they just had to do so virtually. The shift was made easier by the admission team staying more closely in touch with all admitted students, considering the changes and new protocols they will be dealing with in the fall.
“While we could not host visitors in the same way we have traditionally, I think that this worldwide situation leveled the playing field,” says Stacey Towler, associate dean of marketing and enrollment. “All families had the same access to our staff, students and campus, without the limitations of time and resources being a factor.
“This year we were able to redirect our efforts to build robust online offerings, which will provide a solid groundwork for what we can continue to provide in future years.”
The beginning point
“In the world of admission, March and April are very important months,” says Coetzee. “We admit a lot of amazing students in March who have also been accepted to other great schools, and we normally have visits going six days a week for admitted students as well as for interested high school sophomores or juniors who visit over their spring breaks.”
It is normal for Emory to host about 10,000 visitors during peak months in the spring, says Giselle Fernandez Martin, director of recruitment and talent for the Office of Admission. “Our office had shut down in mid-March, so March 13 was our last in-person visit. On the plus side, the virtual space gave us more freedom to engage with every family and admitted student. We tried to get the Emory spirit into the virtual world.”
Under the leadership of Paul Marthers, vice president of enrollment management; John Latting, associate vice provost for undergraduate enrollment and dean of admission; and Kelley Lips, dean of enrollment services for Oxford, the admission team across both campuses transitioned the entire experience online with just a few weeks’ notice.
“We had to identify the best platforms to use and stay engaged with the public, all while ensuring that Emory has a great incoming first-year class during these fast-changing times,” says Timothy Fields, senior associate dean in the Office of Admission, who led diversity outreach.
The result was a rich, comprehensive effort, including “student led” virtual panels from both the Atlanta and Oxford campuses; more than 60 sessions including faculty lectures, housing information, facts and stats; a guide to the university’s 80-plus academic majors and 60-plus minors; and offerings from the Video Ambassadors, a team of students dedicated to bringing Emory’s undergraduate experience to life “through the power of visual media,” led by communication center supervisor Ron Davis.
The Emory Student Ambassadors, co-led by senior assistant dean Madeline Chappell and assistant dean Matty Simon — both alums of the program — is one of the university’s largest volunteer student groups, with more than 250 members.
“The student ambassadors really took up the challenge, holding senior-to-senior chats with admitted students and live group information sessions that were packed to the hilt,” says Martin. “It was lovely to see, especially since these were current students impacted by the shift in their own lives and processing their own remote learning.”
The team wanted the outreach and welcome to prospective and admitted students to come across as authentic, genuine and transparent, not slick and packaged. “We got a lot of student feedback saying, ‘This was so real,’” Martin says. “It left them feeling hopeful and inspired about their future at Emory.”
Assistant Dean Miya Walker led the campus partnership outreach efforts, Associate Dean Rebbecca Kaplan (who has a joint appointment with the Department of Portuguese and Spanish) led faculty engagement, Jeff LaGoy and Ardana Ford led technology design and coding, and so many other team members played crucial roles, says Coetzee.
“Our staff are highly skilled presenters in person, but now you are in your living room, sometimes with your kids or pets, and it’s stressful,” Coetzee says. “Everyone had to learn the technology and pivot quickly, which they did amazingly well.”
An Oxford/Emory dual effort
Given that many students were admitted to both Emory and Oxford, the admission teams at both campuses combined forces to give students a seamless experience.
“We often say that visiting campus is one of the best ways to determine your fit at an institution,” says Sarah Darden, associate dean of admission at Oxford. “Because on-campus visits were no longer an option, we had to come up with offerings that could rival that important experience. A larger-than-ever focus was on social media, email and web offerings.”
While students and their parents were disappointed to miss out on the campus visit experience, Darden says they were “so understanding and appreciative of the engagement opportunities we could provide.”
“We couldn't have done it without the help of Jessica Miller, communication manager, Jackie Gutknecht, communications specialist, and Anne Knauf, senior admission advisor,” Darden says. “They played critical roles in the brainstorming and implementation of our new initiatives. I enjoyed seeing how adaptable our staff was — it made me feel like if we can get through this, we can get through anything together.”
Refocusing efforts to the virtual space involved “making everything more robust and creating new offerings where gaps existed,” Darden says. “We already had standard online offerings like a virtual campus tour and admitted student website. However, we had to move events like our Scholars Weekend online as well. It took a lot of creativity, flexibility and hard work to get everything together in time.”
The admission team typically spends months planning for these events, so implementing so many changes in such a short time was, indeed, a monumental effort – and it paid off.
When registration opened, Towler says, “we were thrilled to see hundreds of students signing up to attend our online events. Families were actively participating, asking questions and taking full advantage of the opportunity to interact with Oxford’s faculty, staff and students. Students were opening emails at a higher rate and using social media more actively.”
Senior admission advisor Rashmi Anand planned special interest sessions for students and parents to attend weekly, admission advisers Cecily Spindel and Ashley Bonds, who manage the daily visit program and tour guides, designed an interactive online visit with access to current students and staff, and event coordinator Dawn Jones mailed a personalized correspondence to all who attended the virtual sessions.
“It was truly a team effort and a testament to the creativity and flexibility of the event staff,” says Towler.
Collaboration, communication and compassion
Darden says she appreciated the increased collaboration between the Oxford Office of Enrollment Services and Emory Undergraduate Admission Office.
“We work together on most things in a normal year, from training, to recruitment, to selection,” she says. “However, we typically diverge at the point of acceptance and ‘yield’ our students separately. This admission yield season looked vastly different and our teams came together more than ever before. We have continued this approach through the summer onboarding process so that our incoming first-year students feel prepared and confident about the year ahead.”
Across the board, the teams took care to “ensure that our wording and approach remained sensitive to all that the students and their families were experiencing during these unprecedented and disconcerting times,” says Darden. “Empathy and compassion were themes woven into all of Emory's communications.”
“Our incoming class is a wonderful assortment of diverse student perspectives and talents,” adds Martin. “Our incoming first-year students to both the Oxford and Atlanta campuses will be like no other this year because of the diverse experiences that led them to Emory. We feel extremely fortunate to have attracted such a talented class.”