In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, accepted students are being offered new ways to experience Oberlin—without actually coming to campus.
Learn about the online events and resources available for those students in this Q&A with Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Manuel Carballo, Associate Dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences Laura Baudot, Vice President for Communications Ben Jones, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Peter Swendsen, and Conservatory Admissions Counselor Ryan Dearon.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, All Roads Lead to Oberlin efforts have moved completely online. What’s been the administration’s strategy to successfully execute this program virtually?
Manuel Carballo: Our strategy has been much more involved than simply translating the traditional All Roads Lead to Oberlin programming to a virtual space. Programming has evolved way beyond the three planned on-campus sessions, with various new entry points for students and their families. The focus has been threefold: to offer lots of great content that reveals different aspects of the Oberlin community; to provide opportunities for engagement with our students, faculty, and staff through interactive sessions; and to allow spaces for admitted students to engage with each another. Having these opportunities available right when decisions were released was important.
Laura Baudot: Right away, we developed an even greater level of strategic collaboration among Admissions, Communications, and the Deans' Offices in order to mobilize the entire campus for our yield efforts. The faculty in particular have been incredibly responsive and helpful. As Manuel mentioned, it was important to not confine outreach and programming to the previously-scheduled All Roads dates, but instead to begin well-orchestrated and varied programming and outreach immediately following the release of decisions. We will continue these efforts up until the enrollment deadline. Connecting with admitted students “live” as often as possible also has been a critical piece. The Uncovering COVID-19 course was designed to help them connect to the institution, specifically to Oberlin students and faculty. We were thrilled when more than 500 admitted students enrolled in the course!
Ryan Dearon: For the Conservatory Admissions Office, we have been trying our best to offer similar experiences for our admitted students to experience Oberlin. Our strategy is focused on addressing the questions of admitted students and their families, and providing opportunities for the admitted students to connect with our current student body. To implement this, we have organized various virtual options throughout this month.
Ben Jones: Video has played a critical role in helping admitted students learn about Oberlin’s special culture and community. Last week we invited all students to submit short videos about any aspect of their Oberlin lives and experiences — a favorite place, class, professor, club, memory, or even just what they’re missing most. The videos have started to roll in and they are wonderful! We are currently working on a similar initiative for faculty. In addition to the DIY videos, our media producer, Mathias Reed, has been working around the clock to produce original video features such as the virtual campus tour and virtual conservatory tour, in addition to archiving all of the live webinars for on-demand viewing, such as the Deans’ welcome, the Music Opportunities for A&S Students panel, and the Housing and Dining panel.
Can you describe the kinds of virtual events that have taken place so far?
Manuel Carballo: From virtual Q&A sessions, virtual hangouts, daily opportunities to sit in on live classes via Zoom, and themed panels, there have been a lot to choose from. One of the most exciting events was our Virtual Academic Fair, which included representation from all College departments and allowed admitted students to attend departmental open houses via Zoom to have their questions answered and meet the faculty in their departments of interest.
Ryan Dearon: Thus far, the Conservatory Admissions Office has offered "Con Chats" to meet current students and learn about student culture, Q&A sessions for admitted conservatory and double degree students, a Facebook Live event, a welcome from our deans in the Conservatory, and we have also recorded our tour and information session for those who haven't been to campus to see and learn a bit about the Conservatory. There is still so much more to come!
Ben Jones: The Conservatory just announced Oberlin Stage Left — as in, the only stage left! — a series of live performances, lectures, and related programming that will feature Conservatory faculty and students as well as some special guests.
How has the college been publicizing these programs?
Manuel Carballo: A series of regular email communications is the primary driver, including a weekly digest that promotes the most important events. All of the programming also resides on the virtual visit programs page, and reminder texts have gone out to students for some of the larger events.
Ryan Dearon: Most of our events have been communicated via email, on our new Conservatory virtual experience website, the new events calendar for admissions, and through various social media channels.
How have the virtual sessions been received by prospective students and families?
Laura Baudot: We’re hearing from many admitted students and families that we’re offering a lot more than the other schools to which they’ve been admitted, and it has been very well received.
Manuel Carballo: So far it's been great! The academic fair saw students hanging out at the virtual tables much longer than they would have in the traditional on-campus format. We've heard that students are excited to learn more about Oberlin and get their questions answered.
Peter Swendsen: The best-attended webinar I’ve been a part of thus far— and I’ve done at least a half dozen—was the one for A&S students with an interest in music. For that one, and for College- and Con-specific events, it’s been wonderful to talk about all the new cross-divisional opportunities that exist on campus: students being able to minor in the “other” division, all the new cross-divisional, thematic programs, etc. It was so important to have those designed, approved, and on the books by this time of year, and I find myself feeling grateful to all of the many people who helped those come to fruition whenever we have the chance to talk about them with admitted students.
Ben Jones: I managed the Q&A for the Deans’ Welcome webinar. We received well over 100 questions, and all of them were great! I think the Deans managed to answer 60 questions, which was heroic but still only about half. I hear that it’s been that way for almost all of the webinars. I had high hopes for the level of engagement we’d see, but this has surpassed all of my expectations.
What programs are slated to take place in the near future?
Manuel Carballo: Themed panels will continue, as well as more opportunities for parents to engage with us. Aside from these virtual events, the admissions staff has reached out individually to all regular decision admits to make a personal connection and have the opportunity to answer questions. This week, current students will also reach out to the admits.
Ryan Dearon: For the Conservatory Admissions Office, we are preparing some exciting ways for students to visit classes virtually, see performances, and learn more about performance opportunities in the Con.
Ben Jones: We’re continuing to promote the DIY student video project and hoping the momentum will continue. Faculty also have reached out with some creative ideas around virtual lectures, and we’re exploring how we might create a series there.
Why are these methods an effective way of connecting with prospective students?
Laura Baudot: The fact that there are so many different ways for prospective students to connect live with Oberlin faculty, students, and staff —and each other— means that they can get a good feel for the community despite not being able to visit campus. The fact that we got started right away and that the offerings have been rich, consistent, and organized also demonstrates a real commitment to helping students really get to know Oberlin despite the physical distance.
Manuel Carballo: These events have offered an opportunity for more admitted students to connect with Oberlin in a way that goes beyond the on-campus offerings that would only have been experienced by the smaller subset of admitted students that are able to attend All Roads in person each year.
Peter Swendsen: The same thing is true online as is true in person: current students are our best storytellers and recruiters. They are such incredible people and so generous in welcoming new students to our community. It’s always a pleasure to be on panels with them and see them in action.
Ben Jones: Despite the extraordinary challenge of COVID-19, I think this has been an opportunity for us to really learn and grow, relative to our annual yield efforts. Even when we return to the normal on-campus All Roads programming, I am hopeful that we’ll continue many of the new virtual efforts too. In particular— and I hope Dean Kamitsuka and the faculty won’t be mad at me for saying this—I’d love to see Oberlin offer a second-module course for admitted students every year, given the obvious popularity of this year’s offering. Hopefully not all of them will be on current pandemics, however!
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