There were no fairy wands or magic spells involved, but Erskine’s Alumni Day and Admitted Students Day, slated as on-campus events for March 28, were offered on schedule—online. The switch to an online platform, initiated in response to COVID-19 crowd restrictions, resulted in enthusiastic participation by alumni and friends as well as prospective students and their families.
In the Alumni Office, the decision to cancel Alumni Day was a painful one. But as preparations began for hosting a Virtual Alumni Day, there was little time to mourn the originally planned campus celebration.
“We had to take months of planning and format everything for an online event within a matter of a few weeks. We made sure to have something for each reunion that would have taken place on Alumni Day,” says Coordinator of Alumni Relations Hope Crenshaw, a member of the Class of 2019.
Canceling one admissions event might not seem as significant as canceling Alumni Day, but for the Admissions team, the lost campus visit opportunity highlighted the adjustments needed for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
Director of Admissions Kasey McNair, a 2017 graduate, saw that with campus visits curtailed, she and her team needed to provide more online resources for prospective students “to help them determine whether Erskine is the best place for them.” So they went to work.
“Turning this into a virtual event when we had planned for almost a year to make it a spectacular on-campus event was no easy task,” Dean of Admissions Dr. Tim Rees says. “We enlisted the help of several departments on campus and they all came together to support us. It was wonderful to see everyone pulling together to make this the best event possible.”
This year’s Virtual Alumni Day was also the result of cooperation across the Erskine community. “We had a choice when we made the decision to cancel the on-campus event—scrap a year’s worth of planning and excitement or use technology and make alternative ways to celebrate the gift of Erskine,” says Vice President for Advancement and Alumni Relations Paul Bell, a member of the Class of 1984. Bell and his staff worked diligently and asked members of other departments for help.
“We did our best to take everything on the schedule and make it virtual. The trivia contest, our Authors, Artists, and Artisans fair, and the Harry Stille exhibit were all converted to a virtual format,” Crenshaw says. “We went through thousands of pictures from 1960 all the way through 2019, and did our best to make sure everyone was represented in this virtual format.”
Participation in Virtual Alumni Day and Virtual Admitted Students Day surpassed expectations, and response to both events was overwhelmingly positive.
Bell observed a poignant indicator of alumni sentiment during this year’s Virtual Alumni Day. “The video of the Choraleers singing the Alma Mater was posted at the end of the day, and it had over 900 views on Saturday evening alone,” he reports. Hundreds of people visited the website and viewed the Facebook posts during the day, and the Choraleers’ performance received hundreds of views even into the following day and beyond. Bell has even received requests to continue having online reunions.
“Many reached out to me simply to thank us for doing something, for not letting the day go unacknowledged,” Crenshaw says.
Describing Erskine alumni as “very relational,” Bell knows the importance of face-to-face contact. “We never want the virtual events to replace in-person get-togethers, but they can be very effective ways to keep us connected with people between those events,” he says.
As for Virtual Admitted Students Day, which drew two and a half times the number of students signed up for the original in-person visit, “I think the event was definitely a success,” Visit Coordinator Kendra LaGreca says. “We also got to have quite a few conversations with students and answered their questions throughout the day.”
Rees agrees. “There was a flurry of activity early in the day, and throughout the event the video content was viewed constantly,” he says. “I am confident in stating that this was a successful event and won’t be our last!”
McNair was pleased with the virtual event, and, as COVID-19 concerns continue, she and the Admissions team look forward to working with prospective students.
“We embraced ‘Going the Social Distance,’” McNair says, referring to a phrase printed on T-shirts created for the virtual event, “to try to make students feel at home in Due West—from their homes.”
And now, she says, “We’re looking forward to creating that feeling for our prospective students throughout the rest of the academic year and into the summer with additional virtual events, direct communications, and encouraging conversations with our staff.”
About the photo at the top of the page, from Coordinator of Alumni Relations Hope Crenshaw: “During the day, I closely monitored all the comments, and I wrote down several. I also reached out to many alumni and asked for their favorite memories. I wrote them all down on sticky notes and wrote ‘We Are Erskine!’ in the middle.”