Covid-19 Pandemic Forces Colleges and Universities to Improvise, Moving Admissions Events Online

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With Just a Couple of Weeks to Prepare and a Small Remote Staff, Western New England University Successfully Pulls off a Live “Accepted Students’ Day”

Dean Kerri Jarzabski hosting Virtual Accepted Students day in front of the Rock with SPIRIT in the background painting the Rock.

Dean of First Year Students and Students in Transition Kerri Jarzabski hosting WNE Virtual Accepted Students day, April 5, with school mascot SPIRIT who is painting the Rock-a University tradition.

“There’s something magical that happens here when you experience our campus firsthand. Our sense of community and support for our students really comes through. We needed to find the best way to communicate that and for us, while scary, that was to go live,” says Bryan Gross.

As regular as April showers, Accepted Students’ Days nationwide are the lynchpin for colleges and universities to convert accepted students into committed students for the coming fall. For Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts, Accepted Students’ Day has become one of its most attended events with enthusiastic families often making deposits on the spot. This year was to be no exception. Then, along came the Covid-19 Massachusetts shutdown.

“About three weeks before the event, we began contingency planning in earnest,” explains Bryan Gross, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing. “Fortunately, we were already in the midst of shooting a series of student-led campus tours, so we pushed up gathering those assets and began brainstorming a master plan.”

While other schools chose to use pre-recorded videos as their virtual accepted students’ day experience, for WNE, going live seemed the only way to go.

“As our President, Anthony Caprio, often says, our strength is in our people,” says Gross. “There’s something magical that happens here when you experience our campus firsthand. Our sense of community and support for our students really comes through. We needed to find the best way to communicate that and for us, while scary, that was to go live.”

To distinguish its event from others, often happening the same day, the University marketed the event as “THIS ISN’T JUST ANOTHER VIRTUAL ACCEPTED STUDENTS’ DAY,” with postcard, emails, and social media promotion.

The plan called for Dean of First Year Students and Students in Transition Kerri Jarzabski to host a live event interspersed with breaks to videos, and a Zoom student panel led by 2020-21 Student Senate President Adetayo Olatinwo. Viewers could post questions in real-time that were monitored and answered by admissions and financial aid counselors, deans, and faculty members also watching live.

In the days leading up to the event members of the University’s Admissions staff and small Marketing team jumped into action to produce and promote this never-before-tried live event, often using just cell phone cameras and earbuds for mics.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the students, faculty, and staff who worked so hard to support this event and produce all of the video content, especially team members Shaun McGrady, Matt Reilly, and Kerri Jarzabski, who were fearless and determined to see to it that this was a success.”

Much of the responsibility fell to essentially a two-person video production team.

“The stakes were very high for our team, especially since we were working remotely with limited resources. But we have a very creative and very resourceful staff, and that really speaks to who we are as community,” said Matt Reilly, Multimedia Design & Technical Director.

From all corners of the University, deans, faculty, and students, as well as admissions, financial aid, athletics, residence and student life, student support, and career development professionals were busy producing their own video content to be played during the live event or available to watch at a later time from the site.

“It was amazing to see how much everyone pitched in to contribute,” says Shaun McGrady, Web Marketing Manager for Western New England. “People were working late into the night to get us the content to share with our future students and families. Through this process, we’ve dramatically increased our video assets so that has also been a positive outcome.”

Adding to the challenge of mixing live and remote content and recognizing that it would not be perfect, the script called for Jarzabski to move to various locations around campus where she pointed out University traditions, took live questions from a tablet, and selected chat participants to receive fun give-a-ways of University apparel and a bookstore gift card. But she was not alone.

Jarzabski was accompanied by the very animated Golden Bear mascot who demonstrated University traditions, such as taking a selfie while seated on the Golden Bear statue, or painting the campus’ icon Rock. The Golden Bear mascot’s antics were popular comments within the live chat, adding a much-needed sense of fun to the much-changed planned event.

VP for Enrollment Management dresses up as SPIRIT, the school mascot

In a nod to the popular Masked Singer television show, at the conclusion of the event, Jarzabski, announced the big reveal of who was behind the mascot mask.

It was…Bryan Gross…much to the surprise and amusement of the WNE community members who were watching live!

“Being Golden Bear was a blast,” laughed Gross. “Now, I can cross that off my bucket list. But on a serious note, we couldn’t have been more pleased with the way the event unfolded. It reinforced to me how much of a family WNE really is. In a time of uncertainty, it truly united our community and I think those who watched the event really got us. We can’t wait to see them in person soon!”

A link to the April 5, 2020 WNE Virtual Accepted Students’ Day can be accessed at https://bit.ly/2RhA2JJ.

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