Personal campus visits are often a deal-sealer for college-bound students. At Clarke University, we often hear, “The moment I stepped on campus, I just knew.” When students have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with faculty, current students, coaches, and staff, they get a feel for the vibe of campus, the energy, and the history of the school.
The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has put a halt temporarily to such visits. As soon as the pandemic swept across our nation, Clarke University did what it always does: adapted with the times.
In 1884, Clarke’s foundress Mary Frances Clarke wrote to her community of sisters, almost all of whom were teachers: “Let us…keep our schools progressive with the times in which we live…In teaching, we must…endeavor to make [students] think.” These directives of over a century ago have continued to inspire our faculty and staff to offer a challenging and growth-producing education to all Clarke students.
In March of 2020, our campus community came to a standstill. Students were sent home without experiencing a traditional commencement as the culmination of their hard work, and students and faculty finished the semester in an online format. As we worked through the details of commencement and what it would look like to reschedule, along with the many challenges the COVID-19 pandemic caused, we began to see some bright spots. Our campus community came together through online avenues. Every member of Clarke’s faculty and staff reached out to congratulate the graduates. As states issued shelter-in-place orders and individuals practiced social distancing, a beautiful thing began to unfold online. Our campus united, served, and supported one another in a new way: virtually.
This phenomenon has continued as we recruit the new incoming class for fall of 2020. Virtual visits have nearly doubled in numbers in recent months as students are now able to participate from practically anywhere. Clarke Enrollment Management CRM/Systems Administrator Kevin Gudenkauf said that Clarke has conducted more than 60 virtual tours from April 6, 2020, until today. In comparison, in 2019, 48 in-person campus visits had taken place and in 2018, 37 visits were conducted in the same timeframe.
In the footsteps of our foundress, Clarke looked to the future and remained progressive with the times, while still remaining deeply rooted in tradition. Before the pandemic, virtual tours were something our campus always aspired to do; they were on the “someday” list. When faced with virtual visits as our only option, we have seen much success.
Assistant Professor of Accounting and Business Jody Wolfe thinks the virtual visits have been going wonderfully. He said, “I very much enjoy them. I can see us continuing to use this method as a useful alternative even after social distancing is no longer necessary. Our department has so many athletes being recruited from such long distances, some from countries halfway around the world. In the past, many of these students would not have an opportunity for a traditional visit, and thus, they would come to Clarke without any opportunity for a visit experience. I see us continuing this visit experience for those students as a way to establish a better connection and recruitment process going forward.”
Wolfe said the virtual visit is very much the same as when the students are on campus. He covers the same materials about the program, department, faculty, campus organizations, and what makes Clarke great and unique. He added, “I think that the student comes away with the same sense of comfortability with our programs as if they were at an in-person tour. The virtual tours have been great from the faculty perspective, and I think there are a lot of opportunities for continued uses going forward.”
Campus Experience Coordinator Morgan Budde said, “The virtual visits are going very well. I think we have managed to keep that personal Clarke feeling you get when you visit campus, except we have taken it to a virtual standpoint. The virtual visit also allows us to make last-minute changes to the visit or add others to the visit with more ease.”
Budde explained that most virtual visits are individual, so advisors, faculty, and coaches can really cater to the student’s specific needs and wishes. The individual virtual visits consist of a Microsoft Teams meeting. Typically, a student meets with an admissions counselor, faculty member, and a coach (if applicable). Then, they take a virtual tour of campus led by a current Clarke student.
Budde went on to add, “In this unprecedented time we hope all our students remember that the best is yet to come and their journeys are just beginning. So many wonderful and life-changing experiences and opportunities lie ahead for them at Clarke University.”
Head Football Coach Miguel Regalado shared, “Our motto is ‘Adjust, Adapt and Overcome.’ With the help of the Clarke Admissions staff, we’ve been having some great virtual visits with prospects all over the country. I’m anticipating the fall of 2020 to look entirely different than any season opener I’ve ever seen. But, like I’ve been telling our kids from the beginning of all of this, we must adjust, adapt, and overcome. I believe if we keep the student-athlete’s health and safety our number one priority, we can’t go wrong.”
Student Montez Thompson is Clarke’s CONNECT Coordinator for 2020. CONNECT is Clarke’s welcome program to ensure a smooth transition to the student’s new college environment. It involves students getting acquainted with the campus, meeting other new students, and learning where campus resources are located.
Thompson’s message to students is, “CONNECT will look different this year, as many things will. Be patient. This is just another situation to demonstrate how important, strong, and powerful your young minds are. You will be able to experience college life, build those connections, make those friends, make those memories. But remember to be patient. We must all be in this together.”
Thompson went on to say that Clarke is working every day to review all types of information to put students in the best possible situation to return to campus and learn in a safe and healthy environment. He urges students to follow Clarke on social media to keep updated.
Clarke Student Ambassador Daisy Lemus ’21 is a nursing student who meets virtually with prospective students. She said that she had to admit the tours were going much better than she had anticipated. She said, “When I meet with a student, I always address that I feel bad that we are not on campus because of the virus, but Clarke is doing everything they can to keep visits going, keep students involved, and the prospective students appreciate that. Overall, I think that online visits are very successful! It’s amazing that even though we are not on campus, prospective students can still virtually meet with professors, coaches, admissions, and be given a tour.”
Tayler Rathjens ’21 is also a Clarke Ambassador studying for a nursing degree. Rathjens said, “I really enjoy the virtual visits! They are proving to be fun, and it’s so nice that I am able to give the prospective student a look into campus and Clarke life from our own homes. I think it is a great experience during these times.”
Even Associate Professor of Psychology Tim Boffeli, who happens to be known for his face-to-face enthusiasm, is finding success in this new online format for campus visits. “The virtual visits are going very well. I always ask if parents are off-screen listening. If they are, then I ask to meet them and suggest they stay on screen. I typically ask the student to come up with three questions. That proves to be productive and a positive way to interact. My biggest adjustment is using hand gestures higher than normal so they show up on the screen!”
As circumstances continue to evolve, so will we. Clarke University has been adapting for 176 years and will continue to be progressive with the times. We will continue to strive to reach our students and the greater Clarke community in thoughtful and meaningful ways. Hopefully, the summer sun will find us all emerging from our homes, and college campuses will once again be open for in-person visits. In the meantime, we encourage students to make the most of this moment by being imaginative, open, deliberate, and curious. Students, support and lean on those around you in this unprecedented time. As you engage in your college search, don’t focus on the obstacles; rather, take advantage of the possibilities.
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