Prospective students zoom in on their college futures

Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Aerial view of Smith Hall

Jenni Cook, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, likens it to a performance. A half-hour prior to going live, there’s a mic check and a chance for everyone to get comfortable with the format.

“It’s a little bit nerve-wracking,” Cook says. “It’s the performer in me that wants to over-prepare.”

Given Cook’s background as a voice professor, opera singer and former chair of the UNH music department, it would be easy to assume that she’s describing a concert. But in reality, she’s referring to the COLA admitted student events – now virtual.

Every spring, the university’s admitted student days welcome prospective Wildcats and their families to each of UNH’s colleges. Cook once again calls on music as a metaphor to describe their impact: there’s a rhythm, she says, that helps students see themselves at UNH.

However, as today’s distinct public health challenges came to the forefront, it became clear that this year wouldn’t be like any other spring, and that admitted student day would require a different rhythm.

“I pivoted,” Cook says, “because that’s what we do.”

That meant unpacking the student and faculty sessions already in place and reassembling them for a virtual format and working through the questions posed by this new territory: Would families be interested in synchronous events? Which digital platforms would best fit their needs? How could current students share their UNH stories?

However, as today’s distinct public health challenges came to the forefront, it became clear that this year wouldn’t be like any other spring, and that admitted student day would require a different rhythm.

When the day arrived for their first live events in mid-April, they were ready. Current students kicked off the morning with an engaging panel discussion on their own experiences and opportunities at UNH, followed by a faculty roundtable led by COLA Dean Michele Dillon and moderated by Cook.

“Last weekend’s panels were so inspiring,” says Susan Dumais, COLA’s communications manager. She says she was struck by how the online discussions felt, in ways, more close-knit than a presentation in a large campus theater. In total, the faculty received more than 125 student questions during their hour-long panel. But while faculty and staff certainly shape the architecture of prospective student events, the opportunity to connect with current Wildcats college by college is their DNA.

This past weekend, as the rest of UNH’s colleges followed COLA in going live with their own virtual programming, civil engineering major Hannah Miller ’21 spoke on two panels about academic life at the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. She first became involved in the CEPS admitted student day events as a freshman, when she was invited to talk about her experience in the Innovation Scholars program. When her department chair reached out after spring break to say that this year’s collegewide and departmental discussions would be shifted to Zoom, her only response was, “Cool, I’m there.”

“I’ve had so many great experiences at UNH,” Miller says. “This is one of my ways of giving back.”

Drawing on the mentorship she received as an Innovation Scholar, Miller today is focused on studying how the particles found in area sediment can illuminate questions of civil engineering, like how removing dams will affect ecosystems up-stream.

It’s no surprise then that Miller’s advice to incoming students centered on getting started with research opportunities right away – and not being afraid to connect with faculty mentors. But her central message? Hope. “I reminded them that the future has so much to hold,” she says.

"It was important to us to build virtual experiences that allow our admitted students to witness and experience the connection, community and opportunity found on our campus,” says Director of Admissions Robert McGann. “This class of prospective students has already risen to the challenges of the day with resilience and creativity by transitioning to remote learning during the final semester of their high school careers. By interacting with some of our great colleagues and current students from across the university, we hope they experienced for themselves the sense of community that will define their college journey.”

UNH virtual events for admitted students are now full steam ahead. Prospective Wildcats will find a number of ways to engage with their college and UNH all month long, from student interviews on Instagram to department-specific academic sessions.