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Zoom parties and hype videos: How Duke is connecting with admitted students

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Regular Decision Blue Devil Days has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has come up with creative ways to engage students virtually. 

Although the admissions office does not plan to host a virtual admitted students day as a replacement for Blue Devil Days, Christopher Briggs, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions, said that WISR—an online platform designed to improve community engagement—will be the hub for much of the information that students would have received that weekend, connecting them to current students, admissions officers and faculty members.

Current Duke students can engage with prospective students by signing up to be a virtual Blue Devil Buddy, hosting a WISR forum, sitting on a WISR digital panel, organizing an Instagram takeover or hosting a virtual Zoom chat, according to an email from Admissions Officer Cole Wicker to the Blue Devil Days Student Advisory Committee. 

Other opportunities include interest-based Zoom chats, virtual campus tours, a “Why I Chose Duke” campaign and an “Everytime We Touch” hype video, according to Senior Admissions Officer Jacqueline Geerdes. 

Over 550 recently admitted students were in attendance at a Zoom party hosted by the admissions office on Sunday night, Geerdes said.

In an email obtained by The Chronicle, Senior Admissions Officer Ilana Weisman indicated to the Blue Devil Days Student Advisory Committee that the admissions office planned to send T-shirts to admitted students, but the string backpacks normally given out at Blue Devil Days are sourced from China and thus will not be available. 

However, Geerdes said that mailing items is not currently the top priority of the admissions office.

“Right now we’re focusing our efforts on our virtual events first to make sure students have access to the information they need to make their decision about Duke, and we’re going to continue to evaluate materials as the situation with COVID-19 progresses and see what that allows in terms of shipping,” said Geerdes. 

According to Briggs, most of Duke’s efforts to connect with prospective students are generally similar to those of peer institutions, but WISR is somewhat unique. 

According to Geerdes, the virtualization of all materials has ultimately expanded the scope of information available to parents of prospective students. 

Parents will have access to “a wide range of sessions, which will include some similar programming to Blue Devil Days, increased financial aid webinars, and other video forums” through Facebook and Zoom, Geerdes said. 

Both admissions officers expressed that they were optimistic about the effectiveness of the admissions office’s efforts to connect with prospective students virtually. 

“We have been very optimistic about students still making the choice to choose Duke this fall,” Briggs said. “The unique part that we have available to us this spring is that for students whose schedules or funding wouldn’t have allowed them to travel to campus, we’ll have the opportunity to engage with them in a different manner.”

Briggs emphasized, however, that virtual programming will not replace future on-campus programming for prospective students. 

“The campus visit is the most influential part of how students make their decisions on where to apply and where to attend, so we’re absolutely not planning to replace the on-campus visit and, if anything, these experiences we’re having this spring will help to supplement them in the future,” Briggs said. 

The engagement of current students in efforts to connect with prospective students has exceeded usual participation in on-campus programming, according to Geerdes. 

“We really have been delighted by the number of volunteers that have reached out and gotten involved,” Geerdes said, adding that students can email undergrad-admissions@duke.edu if they want to volunteer. 

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