How do I love Ohio? Let me count the ways...
By Mary Reed
Illustration by Erik Meyers
Sonam Shankar, a high school senior from Newton, Mass., applied to seven colleges. On her short list was Ohio University -- not surprising since her father, Anuraj Shankar, BS ’84 and BS ’84, had encouraged her to apply. During that window of time between gaining admission and making her final selection, an unusual piece of mail arrived at her home: a handwritten postcard from another Ohio University alumnus, nearby Wellesley, Mass.-based Dave Abram, BSC '89, touting the school.
"I was surprised somebody from around here went to OU," Shankar says, recalling the moment she saw the postcard. At her mother's behest, Shankar met with Abram at a coffee shop. Shankar and her mother peppered Abram with questions: How would she travel on short notice between the Boston area and Athens? What did he know about the residence halls? Financial aid? The top-ranked visual communication program that she was interested in?
"It's phenomenal any time you've had an opportunity to talk to a prospective student and brag on Ohio, for sure," says Abram, who has been active in the Volunteer Alumni Admissions Network, or VAAN, since he moved to New England eight years ago. Most VAAN participants sign up to send 10 postcards each year to admitted students, usually those who share some connection, say, the same high school, current metro area or major. Some VAAN participants, like Abram, even table at regional college fairs on behalf of Ohio University. Abram calls the postcard campaign a master stroke, and he decided to include his contact info on his cards. "It's not too far afield from social media to coin a very short message to create a personal connection," he says, "I can't think of an easier and more gratifying way to participate with a minimal investment."
College admissions is both a science and an art. First, there are the numbers. Ohio University Undergraduate Admissions must collect a certain number of applicants — for fall 2013 entry, the university received more than 20,000 applications, the highest in the school's history — and estimate how many of those applicants will be admitted and then enroll, thus hitting this fall's target freshman class enrollment of about 4,000. But the university wants to enroll students who will prosper and succeed, that is, students who will one day become alumni. This is where the admissions process becomes more of an art. What makes a university the right fit for a student? It can be familial connections; think of Sibs Weekend as a recruitment tool. It may be a tight-knit campus organization like the Marching 110. Or, if you're a prospective student, it might just be meeting a grad who is so enthusiastic about their Ohio experience that they make you believe you will love it as much as they did.
The VAAN postcard campaign has grown from 27 alumni volunteers in 2009 to 607 for the 2013 recruitment cycle. As of June 2013, out of the 6,283 admits who received postcards, 1,946 confirmed their intent to enroll. While it would be a stretch to credit the postcards primarily for those numbers, they surely helped. And the efforts to find students who will succeed are paying off as well. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education report, six-year graduation rates for the Athens campus are higher than both the state and national averages for public institutions.
As for Sonam Shankar, she visited campus a couple of weeks after her visit with Abrams. At his behest, Shankar toured Baker Center, Scripps Hall and the library. 'I think it's really good that they connect students with alumni and students can get their questions and concerns answered, which is really helpful,' she says. After her campus visit, she decided to enroll. 'I'm excited,' says the newly minted Bobcat.