How Wichita State is messaging students over the summer

New students are already connecting with each other online

At Wichita State University, summer engagement in the time of COVID-induced enrollment concerns has three audiences: prospective, incoming and continuing students.

The Kansas university has invited undergraduate and graduate students to join several campus working groups focused on the student experience in the coming months.

As part of these efforts, campus leaders—including the president, the provost and the faculty senate president—have been sending out regular video messages to the campus community, says Carolyn Shaw, associate vice president for strategic enrollment management.

For example, President Jay Golden delivered a special message for international students, some of whom have been living in residence halls throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

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“Some went home but some have stayed,” Shaw says. “We’re letting them know we’re open and we’re supporting them and we know it’s a hard time be apart from their families.”

Campus leaders are also trying to answer all students’ questions, including financial inquiries such as how activities fees are used during online learning to provide access to online tools such as Blackboard and Zoom.

Campus leaders have already distributed $4 million in CARES Act funding to students. Another $100,000 in privately raised has been given out to students who aren’t eligible, such as DACA and international students, Shaw says.

The university has also scheduled a series of virtual town halls throughout the summer to address topics such as student affairs, wellness and how campus life will adapt to health guidelines in the fall.

The university moved early to announce its plans to reopen with hybrid learning to give students some degree of certainty about how the campus will operate in the fall, Shaw says.

“We’re trying to make decisions in a timely manner,” Shaw says. “A lot of online options let people have a voice with regards to their own circumstances.”

First-year and prospective students

Orientation for new students will be a three-part experience, with the first two phases occurring online.

First-year students were introduced to their “transition mentors” during an event in May, and there are several on-demand modules students can access throughout the summer—including messages from college deans and information related to majors, Shaw says.

“There are also critical things they need to know before arriving on campus, such as making sure they have hand sanitizer,” Shaw says. “They need to know they’re going to be wearing masks when they’re with other people.”

Some in-person orientation activities are planned for August, though incoming students who have participated in the university’s virtual activities have already been connecting with each other online, she adds.

“They’ve spontaneously shared Snapahcat handles,” she says. “We can bring them into one virtual space and they’re finding ways to connect outside that.”

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As for prospective students, the university recognizes that some students are delaying enrollment decisions as colleges and universities determine how much face-to-face instruction they can offer.

On a university registration website, Wichita State faculty have defined for students what hybrid means in terms of how their courses will be delivered. That information includes how much of the class will occur online and whether those sessions will be synchronous or asynchronous, Shaw says.

As for residence halls, only about 10% of Wichita State’s students live on campus. Because the school’s dormitories are all less than seven years old, the university can offer all students a single or double room with a private bathroom, Shaw says.

“We’ve continued to send the message about how important student safety and health is,” Shaw says. “And we also want to make sure that students have a positive learning experience.”

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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