Road Map for New Students Wins National Award
Road Map for New Students Wins National Award

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

The late spring of her senior year in high school was the busiest in Ashley Childress’s life, as she juggled challenging classes, senior trips and events and two jobs. “I barely had time to breathe,” she recalled. “Although I was ecstatic to begin my journey at UNH, I didn't have time to persevere when it came to the enrollment process.”

Thankfully, though, UNH had a digital road map for her to follow. She simply had to visit the University’s website, click on the Road Map for New Students and follow the steps, and she was ready to start as a first-year student in August.

A screenshot of UNH's award-winning digital road map for incoming students

“The road map made it simple and less overwhelming, and it reassured me that I wasn't missing out on anything,” she said. “I could check off what I had done and plan for what was to come. I referred to it religiously.”

When she had questions, she’d jump on to the Class of 2017 Facebook page, and Felecia Edwards, director of the First-Year Success Center, would answer them, provide resources or connect her to University staff who were ready to help.

With lively, helpful videos featuring UNH student leaders, new students could wend their way through the whole process, which includes taking placement tests and registering for courses, getting a physical, filling out the FAFSA and other financial aid forms, getting those final transcripts in and securing housing. Students – along with their parents – know every deadline from the minute they first click on the site.  

The transition was so smooth, Childress said, that she felt like part of the place even before she arrived and now, just halfway through her first year, she is president of the Class of 2017, vice president of her residence hall and a member of a criminal justice student organization.

That was the intention, said James McCoy, vice president for enrollment management. “We want students to feel connected to the University from the start,” he said. “Also, the expectation of students today is for instant information. So we wanted to provide a road map with signposts to help them take care of everything in the right order. Our staff works very hard to provide as high level a service as possible to make things easier for enrollment.”

The digital road map – designed by Matt McCullough, senior web content manager in marketing and enrollment communications, and Rob Bove, web content specialist – was widely praised by students and their parents and by UNH administrators, faculty and staff, who called the Class of 2017’s registration process the smoothest ever.

The seamless design and accessibility of the road map also won notice and acclaim nationally as the University took home a Silver Award last month in the Education Digital Marketing Awards.

Industry experts judged entries from universities around the country, including Amherst College, Pepperdine and New York University. In the microsite category, Gold Award winners included the University of Oregon and Caltech. Also winning a Silver Award was the University of Michigan. UNH beat Bronze and Merit winners including Texas Tech, Purdue, Indiana State and Kent State.

“Any time the University is recognized as the great place that it is, it makes us proud,” McCoy said.

Other universities and even high school guidance counselors have taken note and are asking how the University created it and if they could use some of the basic ideas and framework, Edwards said. 

The idea came about after a committee composed of members from across the University sought ways to streamline the enrollment process. Students would register for classes at Student Orientation Advising and Registration (SOAR), which meant that fewer classes were available to students who attended the later SOAR sessions. Now, all placement testing is done online and students receive their first-semester schedules when they arrive at SOAR.

Charged with creating a better process for incoming students, McCullough and Bove set about designing it. Nearly 50 University staff participated in some way, along with multiple departments that provided information needed by incoming students. The University's media services staff produced 30 program-specific videos featuring faculty explaining the advising and registration process.

In a few short months, it was ready to launch for the Class of 2017. The University has since launched road map microsites for transfer, graduate and international students.

“It was a lot of work, but now that it’s up and running we can easily make changes as we go forward,” McCullough said. “The road map worked particularly well because the committee put support systems in place to complement it. Felecia, the admissions staff and I manned the Class of 2017 Facebook Page, responding to students’ questions and referring students to other staff members.”

“The First-Year Success Center was established to support students in the transition to college,” Edwards said. “The development of the road map demonstrated UNH’s continued commitment to helping students by facilitating a smooth transition, providing them with important information on academic majors and resources available. The way a student begins his or her college experience can set the tone for the next four years, and the road map helped our students get off to a great start.”

Parents called it a wonderful tool that made the process much less daunting – for the whole family.  “There are so many things to think of when sending your child off to college for the first time,” said Robert McKnight, a parent. “The road map guides you through the process.”

Sara Cochran, a first-year student, said she felt very connected throughout. “Every single day I would check it just to make sure I didn't miss any important dates,” she said. “It helped in the transition because I had something telling me step-by-step what to do, instead of just trying to figure it out myself.”

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