October 27, 2020

Q&A Session Focused on Recruitment and Retention

UMW faculty and staff tuned in yesterday to a Zoom presentation and Q&A session centered on fall enrollment and retention in the time of COVID-19. Facilitated by Chief of Staff Jeff McClurken, the hour-long event included Vice President for Enrollment Management Kimberley Buster-Williams, Director of Undergraduate Admissions Melissa Yakabouski, Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Studies Kimberly Young and Director of Graduate Admissions Christy Pack.

Vice President for Enrollment Management Kimberley Buster-Williams

Vice President for Enrollment Management Kimberley Buster-Williams

Buster-Williams and Yakabouski, who together have worked half a century in college admissions, said that the recruitment-related woes they’ve faced throughout their careers have been trumped by unemployment rates, health concerns and other disruptions caused by the current pandemic.

COVID-19 has taken an increasingly competitive college-enrollment landscape to new heights, the administrators said, forcing them to re-imagine strategies for recruiting and retaining students, and pose innovative solutions. At the time of the talk, first-year deposits stood at slightly more than 100 less than anticipated, according to Buster-Williams. This mirrors a downward trend across the country, she said. Mary Washington, like other schools, has extended the enrollment deposit deadline to June 1.

“We find ourselves in the midst of a recruitment crisis, and the outpouring of support has been truly appreciated,” she said of faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the Mary Washington community who are pitching in to help yield a strong incoming class.

Director of Undergraduate Admissions Melissa Yakabouski

Director of Undergraduate Admissions Melissa Yakabouski

After working for years to build a 2020-21 UMW undergraduate cohort – visiting schools, attending college fairs, reading applications and more – “our entire operation went online,” Yakabouski said. Without the overwhelming support, she said, “we could not have pivoted as quickly or as well.”

Among incoming students’ top concerns, she said, are a need to connect and a desire to know if Mary Washington will be able to meet its goal of providing in-person learning this fall or if the coronavirus crisis will force courses back online.

Pack and Young said they also have been “sorting through uncertainties” to meet the changing demands of adult learners by enhancing testing and pathway options, and financial support opportunities.

Director of Graduate Admissions Christy Pack

Director of Graduate Admissions Christy Pack

Together, Pack said, the two have hosted virtual sessions throughout the past six weeks for 150 students interested in enrolling in UMW’s MBA, M.Ed., MSGA, BSN, BLS, GIS-certification and other professional development programs.

“Uncertainty means we have hope,” said Young, who is keeping a close eye on the ways in which UMW can help meet the changing needs of area industries, such as offering COVID-19-influenced courses required of educators.

Participants posed a host of questions about such topics as how other schools’ decisions impact UMW’s admissions operations and what unique enrollment strategies are being considered.

“We are making sure we’re being really brilliant at the basics,” Buster-Williams said.

Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Studies Kimberly Young

Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Studies Kimberly Young

In answer to Professor of Chemistry Nicole Crowder’s question on how the entire UMW community can continue to support this crucial effort, Yakabouski suggested being responsive to inquiries from prospective students and their parents, and sharing innovative ideas.

“Recruitment isn’t just about the four of us on this panel,” Young said. “It’s about all of us.”

Watch the May 20 Q&A session on YouTube.

Christy Pack: Master of Admissions

Director of Graduate Admissions Christy Pack, who also serves as the Staff Advisory Council president. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Director of Graduate Admissions Christy Pack. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Director of Graduate Admissions Christy Pack has always been a fan of the quote: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” These poetic words were penned by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, a novella about a young boy who leaves his tiny planet to explore the universe. It’s quite fitting for Pack, who helps aspiring students reach for the stars.

With more than 15 years of experience in enrollment management under her belt, Pack oversees admissions and recruitment for UMW’s graduate programs in education, business and geospatial analysis. Along with Assistant Director David Harger, she spends her days recruiting and holding information sessions, orchestrating communications and marketing plans for each program, and collaborating with the Undergraduate Admissions and Continuing and Professional Studies teams.

“I never get tired of talking about advancing your education and investing in yourself,” said Pack, who also serves as president of the University’s Staff Advisory Council. Since coming to Mary Washington in 2015, she has witnessed an uptick in graduate applications, which she credits to competitive strategies developed to attract prospective students. “It’s been exciting to watch the profession evolve through technology and acclimate to the ever-changing landscape of higher education.”

Working full-time while completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business primed her to address the needs of adult learners, said Pack, adding that Mary Washington accommodates students juggling busy lives by offering evening and online classes and full- and part-time enrollment. She cited a graduate education student she recently met who’s currently completing practicum assignments.

“He said he can’t imagine a more rewarding experience than being in the classroom,” Pack said. “He’s building the foundation of a successful career right here on UMW’s Stafford Campus.”

 

Pack has been a member of the Staff Advisory Council since coming to UMW in 2015, and now serves as its president. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Pack has been a member of the Staff Advisory Council since coming to UMW in 2015, and now serves as its president. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Q: You were instrumental in establishing the long-anticipated agreement to offer business classes at UMW’s Dahlgren Campus. Can you tell us more about it?
A: This was a team effort all the way. We received over 50 applications and pulled together to get the first cohort set up in less than four months. We’re planning for a second one this fall.

Q: A master’s degree is a plus for today’s job-seekers. What are you doing to attract prospective students?
A: We are currently implementing a new application process. This technology is a huge transition for our office and will help us create dynamic strategies to reach and engage adult learners.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: For me, it’s graduation day. Watching a student begin their journey, overcome obstacles and become the person they’re meant to be keeps me motivated.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: Responding to the changing pace of the job.

Q: You’ve been involved in Staff Advisory Council (SAC) since you came to UMW and now you’re president. Tell us why you love being part of the organization.
A: At Mary Washington, I’ve sought opportunities – such as Leadership UMW – to be professionally engaged in ways that can serve others and continue my skill development. As SAC president, I’ve enjoyed working with my colleagues who share this common mission of promoting collaboration and communication across our campus community. One of SAC’s final activities this year will be supporting UMW employees during Virginia Public Service Week in May. Stay tuned!

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I love fishing. Two years ago, I caught a 35-pound blue catfish on the Rappahannock River in Port Royal.

Q: What’s the most inspiring book you’ve read?
A: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. She provides great perspective on women and leadership that I’ve valued in my own journey.

New UMW MBA Program to Launch this Fall

The UMW MBA program will begin a new format starting in Fall 2019. Recently, SCHEV approved the implementation of the 36 credit MBA program. The design of the MBA includes foundation business courses at the graduate level and eliminates the previous undergraduate business prerequisite course requirements.  MBA applicants who have five or more years of progressive, professional work experience or possess a regionally accredited, advanced degree may apply to have their GMAT or GRE waived.  For information on the new MBA program please contact the Office of Graduate Admission at ext. 8000 or email graduate@umw.edu. Click here for full program information.