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American Today

On Campus

If You Build Relationships, They Will Come—in August

By Adrienne Frank

From one corner of the quad to another, admissions staff are launching initiatives designed to ensure that admitted students who’ve placed deposits actually enroll at American University in August.

At the School of Communication, these initiatives—which include everything from Facebook pages to networking events—aim to develop bonds with the students long before they arrive on campus.

“Students who know their peers, advisors, and faculty—even before classes start—are more satisfied with their college experience and more likely to remain enrolled,” Jill Heitzmann, senior advisor, undergraduate recruitment and retention, explained.

Relationship building is what it’s about at the School of International Service, as well.

“Our main strategy is to connect personally with newly admitted students, answer their questions, and keep them excited about their upcoming experience,” said Amanda Taylor, director of graduate admissions and financial aid.

Here are some of the initiatives being undertaken by each of AU’s six schools and colleges:

The School of International Service is testing the Hobson’s system, an online admissions application that allows for more personalized communications. Using the system, launched in December, SIS admissions staff can send customized messages to students based on their interests and application status. Staff also can track the communications to determine, for example, which students opened an e-mail about President Obama’s July 1 visit to SIS, how many clicked through, and what actions they took.

  • SIS faculty are also connecting with admitted students via online chats, listservs, e-mails, Facebook, and telephone conversations. And soon, new students will receive a mailing highlighting Obama’s immigration speech at the new SIS building.

The School of Public Affairs sent books penned by faculty authors to about 300 incoming freshmen. This fall, SPA will host a reception, during which the class of 2014 can meet the authors: Brian Forst in the justice, law and society department, and James Thurber and Candice Nelson in the government department.

  • During freshmen orientation, students also took a mock class to connect them with SPA faculty and introduce them to the public affairs issues they’ll be tackling in the classroom.

The Kogod School of Business launched a marketing campaign in late May, featuring a Web site aimed at incoming freshmen. The site——includes student testimonials and allows freshmen to meet with current students and young alumni in their hometowns, from Sante Fe to Seattle.

  • The Kogod graduate admissions team is hosting networking dinners and events for admitted master’s students who are still on the fence. Dean Richard Durand meets with them whenever possible, and writes about the events on his blog:

Nearly 160 incoming freshmen in the School of Communication received a coffee tumbler from their academic advisors. According to Heitzmann, the mug was a way “to start off our relationship with students on a fun note.”

  • SOC also created a Facebook page for incoming freshmen so they could get to know each other before classes start. The Facebook page will be updated throughout the year with events and programs aimed at retaining students.
  • For the first time, SOC ambassadors are acting as mentors for incoming freshmen. Ambassadors are assigned six to eight students, who can seek out their guidance on everything from class selection to the best pizza in Tenleytown.

To help develop stronger bonds with incoming students and their parents, the College of Arts and Sciences redesigned the “meet the deans” session on the first day of the summer Eagle Summit. Students were asked to write a message to themselves about their goals, which their advisors will return to them at graduation. Parents also penned a message to their children that advisors will give them several weeks into the semester when homesickness can set in.

  • CAS hosted online chats for incoming students in May and June and peer advisors are calling incoming students who haven’t yet submitted their freshmen guides.
  • CAS hosted two First Friday events in June and July for admitted graduate students. They chatted with advisors and representatives from financial aid and housing and dining, and mingled with other incoming students.

According to Brooke Sandoval, associate director of admissions, Washington College of Law, is building community by hosting summer programming aimed at easing students’ transition to law school. In June, more than 100 admitted law students turned out for a week-long housing conference. The event featured bus tours of D.C. neighborhoods where many WCL students live and receptions hosted by the Dean’s Diversity Council and the Multicultural Development Committee, an alumi group.

  • About 100 incoming 1Ls also attended a welcoming reception at the Jones Day law firm in D.C., which employs several WCL alums.

The Office of Development and Alumni Relations is chipping in to boost enrollment and retention. The department has teamed up with admissions to host summer send-offs in Chicago, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, Kansas City, and Pittsburg, during which freshmen and their families can meet with AU alumni.