The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets reaches out to future cadets through social media and other online tools, and the effort is making a difference in enrollment numbers and in the quality of information being shared with families.
In fall 2012, 421 new cadets reported to the Virginia Tech campus and pushed the Corps of Cadets to an overall enrollment of 1,066, the largest since 1968.
The innovative approach of using technology and social media alongside face-to-face recruiting allows the corps to efficiently and creatively get the word out about the opportunities of a senior military college within a nationally ranked land grant university.
YouTube, in particular, offers a means of communicating one-to-many with a personal touch, said Maj. Rewa Mariger, assistant commandant for recruiting.
The Welcome VTCC New Cadets! channel was created in April 2009 to help incoming cadets and their parents with the transition to a senior military college.
In recent years, “my phone was ringing off the hook as the corps class grew, and as an office of one, I needed a better way to get the details parents and students wanted to know out to them so they did not each have to call me and wait for me to reply,” Mariger said. “Placing videos — which covered everything from the next steps for accepting their offer to what kind of socks to bring — put a human face on the corps for the concerns of the incoming cadets and their parents.”
Virginia Tech became unique among senior military colleges for reaching out to parents via YouTube with something other than marketing videos. However, that initial personal connection left parents hungry for more ways to connect.
Three mothers launched the Parents of VTCC Cadets Facebook group in the Fall of 2009 — Kathryn White, mother of Ryan Sparks of Sugarland, Texas, a junior majoring in history; Yvonne Strassmann, the mother of Joshua Strassmann of Stratford, Conn., a junior majoring in electrical engineering; and Maresa Spangler, the mother of Connor Spangler of Midlothian, Va., a sophomore majoring in computer engineering. Through the online community, parents with older cadets reach out to parents of incoming students with tips, advice, and valuable real-time feedback.
Susan Carter, the mother of Ryan Carter of Chesterfield, Va., a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said the Facebook community offers a “tremendous way to stay informed and in touch. Having a true community in which to share and learn about the corps and all that the cadets are doing has been invaluable to our family. The commandant's posts, the photos, the wise words from other parents are a unique and timely way for parents and siblings to feel a part of this tremendous experience that our children are having.”
The interaction on Facebook helped to inspire Susan Carter’s daughter to join the corps. She will be a freshman in fall 2013.
Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart, the commandant of cadets, maintains his own page on Facebook, which is followed by prospective students, current cadets, families, and alumni. Fullhart updates the page several times a week with photo galleries, news, and information about what’s happening within the corps.
The ROTC programs also reach out through Skype. Col. Chris St. Jean, a former professor of military science for Army ROTC, conducted scholarship interviews through Skype for students who were unable to travel to campus.
“For those who cannot travel to campus, face-to-face interaction is still crucial. I remember one prospective cadet’s parents were missionaries in Eastern Europe, and we were able to conduct an Army ROTC scholarship interview on Skype,” St. Jean said.
That cadet got the $125,000 scholarship and brought two cousins to the corps, as well.
Once technology helps attract prospective students, another innovative program takes over. Through the Spend the Night program, a prospective cadet can visit campus overnight with a cadet host. Together, they can attend classes and physical fitness training, participate in morning formation, and learn more about the Corps of Cadets Rice Center and its leadership minor. Parents also attend a Corps of Cadets information session.
“Students don’t have a wishy-washy response to the Spend the Night program,” Mariger said. “They come into the TV lounge the next morning with either a big smile on their face — ‘Mom, Dad, this is for me!’ — or trying very hard to not make any eye-contact — ‘Mom, Dad, come on, let’s go!’ Either way, we count it as a success. We have close to 90 percent retention of students who attend the Spend the Night program and later enroll.”
Due to an increase in membership, the Corps of Cadets reactivated Lima Company to handle the growth.
In addition to his Facebook page, Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart, the commandant of cadets, writes a blog designed to expand the discussion and advance the importance that leadership brings to the world.
For seven years, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets has participated in the Olmsted Cadet Travel and Cultural Immersion Program to provide cadets with real-life international experiences.
What started as a simple conversation about the amazing contributions of Hokies serving in the military far away from home has turned into a tradition as proud as the Corps of Cadets itself.
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