Discover Engineering for Prospective Students Makes Impact in Online Format

Apr 21, 2020

By Alina Haas

How do you show prospective students your campus when your campus is closed? How do you deliver information in digestible chunks so as to keep guests engaged online? How do you create meaningful interactions with current students, faculty, alumni, academic counselors and staff while practicing social distancing?

At UCLA Samueli, we quickly realized we would have to think outside the box to transition our annual Discover UCLA Engineering recruitment event on April 5 from one that’s held on campus to a virtual experience. Our objective was to communicate that the school cares about our prospective students and their choice, that we are excited about their admission, that we want to connect with them and that we’re in this pandemic situation together. After taking stock of what we already had on hand from previous events and what new content we would need to create, we made a plan.

Discover UCLA Engineering coverThis included creating a one-stop-shop website where prospective undergraduate students and their families could find a comprehensive introduction to our school. It even included a self-filmed video tour one of our Engineering Ambassadors created when students were first sent home. But we knew we would also have to produce additional content, as well as prepare live interactions during the actual event.

To create new content, having the right vendor turned out to be critical and we were lucky enough to have started working with an outside video production company on a highlight reel of footage from last year’s event. This was perfectly timed so we had something to share that captured the spirit of the day while we sorted out additional details. We were set to film on campus on March 20, and of course, that was the day Gov. Gavin Newsom instituted the “Safer at Home” order! The video producer pivoted with us, and after numerous phone calls and conversations, we came up with an alternate plan to create a video tour given by one of our students from her room. This turned out to be the warm, welcoming and genuine introduction to our school and our undergraduate experience that we wanted.

For our live interactions, we turned to Zoom. It was fortunate that most of our faculty and students were already becoming familiar with this platform as UCLA shifted to remote learning in March. However, the potential for 500 to 1,000 guests in a single Zoom meeting would result in chaos. So, we decided to use a combination of Zoom webinars for the larger department presentations and small Zoom meetings to engage our students in more casual “face-to-face” breakout sessions. The greatest challenge was none of us had a webinar license until the week before the event. Staff, students and faculty from every department tried to get up to speed with online tutorials so they would be able to do practice runs immediately. This was a steep learning curve that required multiple rehearsals before we went live.

But the biggest advantage of having a virtual event was it opened up accessibility for our international admits.

On April 5, all of our elements came together: the recorded content, the live department sessions, the Q&As, the breakouts, and the active participation of our alumni and student groups. We had 657 registrations for our department sessions compared to our 728 RSVPs in 2019. And for the first time ever, we have attendance data in addition to RSVP, including 526 unique logins. But the biggest advantage of having a virtual event was it opened up accessibility for our international admits. We had 52 students from 15 countries join us compared to 11 students from eight countries last year.

The pride, energy and passion of our current students proved to be the best recruitment tool. At the virtual student group fair, prospective students were able to inquire about the UCLA Samueli student clubs and life as a Bruin Engineer. Even if someone was unable to participate live, they can still experience the excitement through the many congratulatory images or videos created for our admits to make them feel welcomed.

Some of the feedback we got included that this was the most intimate experience the admits had received from any college thus far. What we also learned was that this was less about the carefully planned event components and more about the True Bruin spirit exhibited through our entire engineering community. We could not be more proud of this school-wide achievement, which would not have been possible without the generous support and active participation of our current students, alumni, faculty and staff. We’re looking forward to again sharing this experience with UCLA Samueli admitted transfer students on May 9.

Haas is an academic counselor at the Office of Academic and Student Affairs at UCLA Samueli.

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