By Jeff Logsdon

Everyone on campus knows why Chico State is an amazing place to go to school. When prospective students visit, they love the trees, Big Chico Creek, and the architecture. They frequently comment on how nice it is when friendly strangers say “Hi” to them. Whether talking with faculty, staff, or students, they pick up on the unique sense of community we build here.

We call it the Chico Experience, and it practically sells itself—if people can visit to experience it.

In a typical year, Office of Admissions staff welcome approximately 20,000 visitors to campus and meet an additional 28,000 contacts through recruitment travel across several states—supporting an influx of 35,000 or so applications from potential Wildcats.

2020 is clearly not a typical year.

We were entering our busiest period for campus visits when California adopted its stay-at-home order in March, just as most schools go on spring break and students and their families embark on college visits. Between mid-March and mid-April, Admissions usually receives about one quarter of our tour visitors and we host Choose Chico, our spring event that brought over 4,000 guests to campus in 2019.

Hundreds of people crowd the First Street Promenade during Choose Chico.
Over 4,000 students and guests attended Choose Chico in April 2019. This year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19.

The application and recruitment cycles never stop overlapping in the Admissions world, not even during a global pandemic. My fellow staff members are committed to keeping Chico State top of mind and a desired destination for high school and transfer students. 

We know spending time on campus with students and their families is our most effective recruiting tool in helping them make the big college choice. So how do we share this beloved place in the virtual world?

We had to act quickly and get creative, but true to our Wildcat spirit, we were up for the challenge.

Ten staff members are continuing the work they’ve been doing since last fall to yield the incoming class for this August. Another seven staff are focused on recruitment for the 2021 application periods now upon us.

A four-panel grouping of Zoom videos shows students holding up their hands like they are fierce Wildcats.
Clockwise from top left: Communication sciences and disorders major Cristian Gonzalez, exercise physiology major Cheyenne Cain, agricultural science and education major Ernesto Gonzalez, and kinesiology major Addy Zambrano Chavez pose as Wildcats for a Zoom student panel advertisement photo. (Screen capture courtesy of Jeff Logsdon)

Since March, we’ve been managing an array of Zoom calendars with 15–20 interactive, live, virtual activities every week, open to anyone who wants a taste of the Chico Experience. They can participate in a student-led photo tour of campus, speak to a live panel of three students, or watch an Admissions counselor presentation. In May, we began offering drop-in virtual appointments with Admissions counselors. By the end of June, with our status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution in mind, we began providing the same tours and presentations in Spanish.

It’s important to us that new students and their families know that people at Chico State mean it when we say, “We’re still here for you.”

We reach small audiences with our Zoom events, and tour guides say the group size makes it safe for people to ask really good questions, which this year are going deeper than the classic, “What is the food like in the dorms?” Instead, they want to know things like, “What do you like to do in Chico when you get out of class each day?” and “Do you see people who look like you at Chico State?”

One student looks at her cell phone screen as two other students give a tour on Instagram Live.
Music major and Admissions ambassador Jayna Feldman, in the top frame on the cell phone, hosts an Instagram Live tour from her home near Sacramento as ambassador Diana Castellanos, a double major in public health and nutrition and food sciences, films and describes the Student Services Center to the audience from campus.

In hopes of reaching and engaging with even more students, our tour guides came up with an idea for Instagram Live tours, and surprisingly—or maybe not surprisingly—they are the most attended and engaging activities so far. We gained over 500 new followers within the first two weeks. Whether the guides are sharing the legend of rubbing one of the statues outside Ayres Hall for good luck or stopping to point out a squirrel, we’re having lots of fun with this format.

Instagram Live also allows us to shed constraints of large in-person groups, which take up a lot of space and move slowly. With the multiple tour guides and the magic of screensharing, we’re able to quickly switch from one tour stop to the next with zero walking time—showing off more of our beloved campus than ever before.

So far, we’ve added a quick stroll through the Arts and Humanities Building courtyard to point out its big windows, and we’re taking extra time to note the riparian scenery as we cross some of the nine footbridges over Big Chico Creek. In early July, we partnered with University Housing for a special tour of the interior of each residence hall with a steady audience of around 100 viewers. We plan to show off the Wildcat Recreation Center in late July, and, unlike in-person tours, we’ll be able to take our audience upstairs to see the group exercise rooms, cardio floor, indoor track, and a bird’s eye view of the pool. We’re also excited to experiment with taking our virtual guests beyond the campus core, like to the track and Nettleton Stadium. The possibilities are endless.

A student films herself in the courtyard of the Arts and Humanities Building for an Instagram live tour.
Anthropology major Kaitlyn Glavee walks the audience through the courtyard of the ARTS Building during an Instagram Live tour.

Admittedly, the sudden move to the virtual world felt overwhelming several months ago, but we’ve come to appreciate how the need to “make it happen” has removed many previous barriers to creativity and seems to be building excitement like never before.

These outreach methods will have a place in the work we do even when we return to work on campus, but meanwhile, we’ll continue to expand our virtual offerings with our many partners on campus who help us tell the Chico State story.

So, what’s next? Follow @ChicoStateAdmissions on Instagram and stay tuned.

Jeff Logsdon is assistant director of communication and campus visits in the Office of Admissions at Chico State. He earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering from Chico State in 2012 and completed his master’s in college student personnel from the University of Tennessee Knoxville in 2014 before returning to support the next generation of Wildcats at his alma mater.