Regional Admissions Spotlight Series: Nazareth College
RaiseMe brings you a special series highlighting insights from regional admissions staff about how their work has shifted due to COVID-19.
At RaiseMe we’ve always looked to our partners and the higher ed community for guidance, and have found that right now it is especially important to learn from and lean on each other.
That’s why we’re bringing you a special series highlighting insights from regional admissions staff.
Sarah Gibson, Associate Director of Admissions, Nazareth College
What were you up to before COVID-19?
I was working remotely out of my home office in California. I was planning to be on the road for about a month total this Spring. Actually, I started my first trip but never finished it. I flew to Chicago on March 11th to attend the Chicago NACAC Fair.
I had planned to arrive a couple of days early so that I could visit students at some high schools in the Chicago suburbs. When I arrived, however, I learned that the fair had been canceled by NACAC due to concerns over COVID-19. As my high school visits were starting to be canceled, as well, I ended up never leaving the airport and turning right back around and flying home.
As silly as it all seemed at the time, it ended up being the right decision to turn around and head back home, because later that week, all our college-sponsored travel was suspended due to the virus.
Do you have advice for working remotely?
While I have been in the college admissions world for about 10 years now, this is my first year in a regional admissions role. I have learned that working remotely has its advantages but also comes with significant challenges. I am a part of a professional organization in California called RACC (Regional Admissions Counselors of California), and one of the first things I remember being told is that I would know after one full year of working remotely that I either loved it or that it wasn’t for me.
While I am not at the end of my first year yet, I have learned a lot about how to bestapproach some of the challenges that come with working from home. One challenge, for sure, is the feeling of going stir crazy. I combat this by making sure to get out of the house at least once during the workday. Before COVID-19, this could mean any number of things, but since COVID-19, this involves just a simple walk.
I would also say it’s really important to ask for what you need. If your college is supporting a regional position, they want to see you succeed in this role. Sometimes asking for what you need has to do with monetary expenses like requesting a printer or reimbursement for mailings, but other times, it can mean requesting that your team video conference you in for regular meetings or follow up with you after impromptu updates.
One of the biggest things I appreciate as a regional rep is simply being thought of. A coworker sending me an email and saying, “Oh, we talked about this today, and I wanted to make sure you knew,” seriously makes my day. But honestly, the responsibility to reach out is mine. The more I reach out to my team and let them know I’m there for them, the more I feel connected and valued. So don’t let the physical distance be an excuse for neglecting your team!
“The more I reach out to my team and let them know I’m there for them, the more I feel connected and valued. So don’t let the physical distance be an excuse for neglecting your team!”Sarah Gibson @NazarethCollege
How has the way you communicate with students changed since COVID-19?
The biggest change would have to be in how much more I am using video conferencing. Before COVID-19, I think there was much more reluctance from students to connect with admissions counselors via video chat. While I don’t know for sure, I would imagine that many students felt that if they did a video chat with an admissions counselor, it would be viewed as evaluative or an interview of sorts. Now, it seems that there is a real openness and also almost a desire amongst students to have that visual connection.
How are you responding to the needs of students and parents right now?
We are doing our best to listen to what they are asking for and accommodate as best we can, given the circumstances. What our admitted students want right now more than anything else is to be able to connect and communicate with other admitted students. As with many colleges, our most important admissions events, every year are our admitted student events which we refer to as our “NazBound” days. These events provide admitted students with the opportunity not only to spend a day on our campus but to meet and connect with other admitted students. Many students find their roommates or meet their future best friends at these events. Admitted students often attend these events as a way to help them make their final college decision. Spending this day with other admitted students helps them to feel like they are part of a community and to determine which college they can envision themselves growing, being challenged, and being supported within for the next 4 years.
What we are hearing right now from our admitted students is that they are very anxious about these live NazBound days being cancelled. Therefore, we are hosting many virtual events where admitted students can connect with one another. We are doing this to ensure that students still have the opportunities available to get a feel for their future peers, even if it’s not physically on the campus they will be calling home next year.
The silver lining in all of this is that offering these virtual events, as opposed to live events, means that our events can be more inclusive. Students who before did not have the ability to travel to campus for an admitted student event no longer feel as though they are missing out on the chance to connect with their future peers – no more FOMO!
This is especially great for me, as a West Coast Rep. Because all students can only connect virtually at the moment, admitted students who normally would have attended a live event are now interacting with admitted students from around the country and the globe that they may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. I have a growing feeling that this incoming class (both because of COVID-19 and in spite of COVID-19) is going to be VERY close-knit.
“I have a growing feeling that this incoming class (both because of COVID-19 and in spite of COVID-19) is going to be VERY close-knit.”Sarah Gibson @NazarethCollege
We are taking in everything we are learning from each event we are hosting right now to try and build the best virtual content possible for our students and families. While events and offerings have already been rolled out, our office is committed to continuing to adapt to the needs of our students. It will be a bit of trial and error in the coming weeks, but we’d rather be willing to change our approach than offer content we find isn’t working well for the students and families we serve.
What tools are you using to engage students in your territory in lieu of in-person meetings and events?
For my territory, specifically, it has been and will continue to be about personal outreach. I am fortunate in that I work for a small college, so it is possible for me to cultivate personal connections with applicants in the admissions process. Before COVID-19, that sometimes meant setting up one-on-one meetings in person for informal coffee chats, where and when possible. Now, it’s not all that different. It just means making a call or setting up a video chat where I may have just met with a student in person either at their high school, fair, or a coffee shop before. Thankfully, students have been very open to this.
What has been an important learning for you in the last couple of weeks?
The last couple of weeks, for me, has been a masterclass in patience and letting go of control. I am, by nature, a very organized person. It is far easier to organize for yourself than for an entire team. That being said, the work that a team can accomplish is much better and amounts to much more than one person can do on their own. I am fortunate to be on a team where everyone truly cares, and this is what is most important to remember and to keep in mind.
While we may not always consider all aspects of a project or remember to ask how we can be best supporting and assisting one another, I have to remind myself in my own moments of frustration or feeling overwhelmed that we truly are all in this together. Everyone has their own battles and COVID-19 is impacting us all in different ways. Everyone is doing the best that they can right now, and that best is pretty great. I am incredibly proud of the work our team is doing. It takes more effort and time to do things the right way, and I am learning how important patience is to ensure that things are done effectively. Before, I felt a huge amount of control over my day to day life and tasks, as I was kind of on my own island out here on the West Coast. I thought that I was happiest when I had that control and autonomy. Honestly, though, letting go and feeling like part of a team again has been a blessing and one that I’m not in a rush to give up. Do I want the world to be a safe place to venture into again? Absolutely. But do I want things to go back to the old normal? No.
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