ET&S Helps Provide Virtual Solutions to In-Person Events During Pandemic

November 10, 2020

by UNH IT Staff

From graduation ceremonies and admitted student visit days to new student orientation, Enterprise Technology & Services (ET&S) worked closely with University System of New Hampshire (USNH) marketing departments to take major events virtual since COVID-19 struck in the spring.

ET&S provides application and technical support for video conferencing via Zoom at USNH, and trains faculty and administrators on the finer points of presenting online.

With the slate of canceled in-person events stacking up by early April, USNH campus leaders were looking for a way to livestream large events. Services like Zoom were working well for meetings and virtual classroom instruction, but meeting attendees were limited to 300 under USNH license agreements. Looking to avoid hiring a costly third-party vendor, ET&S began working on in-house hosting solutions. 

Several USNH institutions have leveraged these newly developed services over recent months.

Keene State College (KSC)

Keene hosted many virtual events, with the commencement for the class of 2020 its largest at over 3,500 attendees. KSC also hosted Owl Orientation in June and Hootie’s Welcome Days in August for new students. These are critical events given that students who attend have a higher likelihood of matriculating and being successful in their first semester. 

During Hootie’s Welcome Days, KSC introduces students to more of their peers and their full orientation group. These cohorts of students then take the First Year Seminar class together during the fall semester. 

Casey Justice, director of transitions & parent programs, oversees both events and noted that they are designed to be in-person.

“Owl Orientation and Hootie’s Welcome Days are meant to be in person events as the benefits of being in person far outweigh being virtual,” Justice said, but the ability to go virtual was important. “These events benefit our institution tremendously, as they help lower our attrition rates over the summer by allowing us to engage with students and families.” 

Plymouth State University (PSU)

Since March, the vast majority of PSU events have been held online, including admissions open houses, town hall forums, public lectures and even some performances at the Silver Center for the Arts. The highest profile event supported by ET&S was a campus visit from Dr. Deborah Birx, United States coronavirus coordinator in early October, who presented on the university’s response to COVID-19. 

Brett Robinson works for ET&S’ Learning Space Technology service line as technology coordinator and consulted with clients, scheduled Zoom webinars and provided live support for PSU’s virtual events.

“Virtual events have been pretty successful. People seem eager to participate even though large gatherings in person aren’t possible right now,” Robinson said. “It’s been great having an easy way to get people connected and has allowedour community to continue to engage even though we can’t always be in the same room together.”

University of New Hampshire (UNH)

At UNH, Admitted Student Visit Days is a large-scale, multi-faceted affair which provides new students their first opportunity to interact with members of the university and also gives them a long look at campus. For students who have been accepted to multiple universities, many will base their decision on where to attend on their interactions with each university, adding extra importance to this event. In April, UNH-Manchester turned to ET&S and its Communications and Public Affairs (CPA) department to pull together a successful online experience. 

Andy Dolph, an audio-visual technician who has been with the University of New Hampshire nearly 20 years, has run sound, lights and presentation equipment at large in-person events and now spends much of his time as a technician for Zoom webinars. Dolph provided technical support for the virtual Admitted Students Visit Day. “Colleges and admissions folks stressed the importance of this event in order for us to get the right size (first year) class in the fall,” he said. “It’s students getting to know us that makes them decide whether or not to attend UNH.” 

The virtual solution worked: UNH hosted more than 230 Admitted Students Visit Day sessions without a hitch and ultimately reached its target for first year student enrollees. 

As spring turned to summer and all in-person events were canceled, UNH relied heavily on Zoom webinars as a virtual solution, including commencement, June orientation and virtual town halls. The Admitted Students Visit Day events were used as a template. 

Assistant Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Mica Stark had a bird’s eye view of the webinars and the benefits they brought to UNH.

“While COVID forced everyone to pivot to a virtual experience, it gave us an opportunity to use a platform that prior to March, we had only used as a back-up,” Stark said. “All of these virtual events allowed us to keep our audiences informed and engaged.”

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