By Chris Casey | University Communications
DENVER—Chris Dowen, assistant vice chancellor of undergraduate admissions and K-12 outreach, describes admissions work at the university as an evolving journey.
"That's the mode we're in—continuous improvement," said Dowen, who started at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus a year ago. "I think our office is right there in the midst of that. We embrace creativity and a culture of improvement. The key is to find people who thrive in that environment."
Likewise keeping that mindset in all her endeavors is Catherine Wilson, associate director of K-12 outreach, who came to the Office of Admissions last summer after many years as a high school English teacher.
Dowen and Wilson chatted with Today about some of the initiatives launched in the past year and how "the numbers are very encouraging" for CU Denver undergraduate admissions next fall.
- 10,000 new outreach contacts with students, families, teachers since July. This is above and beyond the usual population reached.
- New, more interactive campus tour formats.
- Newspapers in Education involvement. CU Denver-branded lesson plans have been downloaded 2,000 times through NIE partnership.
- History Day Colorado. CU Denver hosted the metro event in March and will host a state event in May.
- Preview CU Denver days targeting first-time freshmen, transfers and high school juniors.
- Innovations in Education events, which are free and offer teachers timely information about instruction and the opportunity to use CU Denver resources to advance their professional development.
The Office of Admissions blends event-type outreach with long-term relationship building in school districts across the state to create a holistic approach to student recruitment. When word circulated about a STRIVE Preparatory School student announcing his dream of studying in CU Denver's College of Architecture and Planning, the Office of Admissions deployed Milo and a swag bag to the boy. "It turned into a great Q&A session at the school where Milo's handler talked about our BA/BS-MD program and other great programs at CU Denver," Wilson said. "Here we were doing something amazing for this one student and we had a captive audience of 90 students."
Dowen noted that our K-12 outreach works to build relationships at even lower grades—typical university recruiters target only high school students—"so we can leverage something like a student visit and get in front of the whole school."
Fantastic outreach is occurring all the time at both the CU Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus, Dowen said. "We're working to maximize that," he said. "At the end of the day, we'll bring those efforts back to the Admissions Office so we can build a longer-term relationship with these folks, include them in our database, and have a sustainable connection with them."
Wilson added, "We want seamless handoffs to programs, and more positive experiences for prospective students."
As a case in point, where it used to take prospective students 14 clicks online to sign up for a campus tour, Digital Marketing Manager Chad Reiling streamlined it and it now takes only three clicks. And the new, revamped tours are much more productive and interactive for students and their families.
"Campus Tour Coordinator Mary Francavilla reconfigured our tour to make it less about passing through and seeing buildings, to a tour that really engages people with the experience of being a CU Denver student," Wilson said. The tours now start at the Tivoli, the vibrant center of campus, and wind through North Classroom and the Science Building before crossing Speer Boulevard and following the CU Denver neighborhood into the heart of the city: the College of Architecture and Planning, Lawrence Street Center, the new Business School and, finally, Larimer Square and the Admissions Office.
Admissions reached out to the schools and colleges to ensure that the student ambassadors leading the tours convey the right messages about key programs to campus visitors.
"We're also affording people a chance to meet individually with Admissions staff members after the tours," Dowen said. "Ultimately, when the student is on their way home with a parent, or uncle, or other influencer we want them to say, 'Wow, that really resonated with me and I'd be nuts not to consider CU Denver because it was so memorable.' We're trying to make it as special and memorable as possible, particularly by embracing the city as our campus. It takes more effort but it's worth it."
The culture of improvement extends to helping teachers be their best. Between the School of Education and Human Development's expertise and the Office of Admissions deep connections to school districts statewide, Dowen envisions CU Denver as being the leader in the conversation about improving education. "I look for us in the next year to really laser in on how we can help teachers be more successful in new and innovative ways across Colorado," he said. "That will be good for everyone—the teachers, the students, CU Denver. It will be a win-win for everyone."
Another initiative is to smooth the experience for transfer students who are considering CU Denver. A Transfer Resource Services center has been set up conjunction with the Lynx Center to be a place where transfer students can get all their questions answered. "Transfer students usually care about two things—how my courses I've already taken are going to transfer, and how do I connect with an advisor?" Dowen said. "We've created and enhanced services that address both of those touch points for transfers."
This summer, the Office of Admissions and the Lynx Center will benefit from being moved to the first floor—the front porch, if you will—of the new Academic Building at Speer Boulevard and Larimer Street. For both current and prospective students, Dowen noted, the new building will provide one-stop shopping for student services, including student affairs, admissions, disability and financial services.
While the journey is important and the improvements are many—this article touched on just a few—the destination is of import as well. In this case, the numbers of new students for next fall are pointing in the right direction.
"We've certainly seen a significant increase in applications, both at the freshman and transfer levels," Dowen said. "We (in the Office of Admissions) are not responsible for all that. It's the full campus, it's our academic reputation, our Learn With Purpose campaign—it's all sorts of things that faculty and staff are contributing. It's a big tent, no question."
(Photo: Jeffrey Dang, a CU Denver student ambassador, far left, leads a large group on a campus tour. The tour wraps up with a stroll down Larimer Square, where CU Denver Learn with Purpose banners are hanging, and a stop at the Office of Admissions.)