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Virtual Princeton Preview aims to recreate campus community ‘without the big tent’

<h5>Princeton Preview tents from 2018.</h5>
<h6>Risa Gelles-Watnick / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Princeton Preview tents from 2018.
Risa Gelles-Watnick / The Daily Princetonian

An entirely virtual Princeton Preview began earlier this month and will continue through part of May for students admitted to the Class of 2025. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Preview, which normally gives high school admittees two days in April to experience campus life, has been converted into a month-long virtual platform for students to get to know the University. 

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According to Emily Crosby, assistant dean for events and visitor management, virtual Preview was designed to give admitted students an opportunity to connect personally with campus life.

“This year, we focused on offering as many opportunities for personal connection as possible, while showcasing the most unique features of Princeton,” she wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian.

“Our goal is to re-create the sense of community that [admitted students] immediately feel when arriving at Princeton Preview – just without the big tent!” she continued.     

On April 7, admitted students were sent an invitation to join a digital community geared towards connecting with current University students, organizations, faculty, and fellow admitted students. 

Key programming includes “Tiger Talks,” during which about 50 student ambassadors, including volunteers and Orange Key tour guides, have set aside appointment slots for admitted students to schedule one-on-one talks with current students.

In her email, Crosby emphasized the key role that student ambassadors are playing in this year’s Preview programming.

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“With more time to plan our virtual Preview this year, we were able to put together a wonderful team of student ambassadors that reflects the wide range of interests, backgrounds, and experiences of the student body,” she wrote in her email. “We are so proud of the work they have been doing and continue to do to help yield our great class of 2025.”

Virtual preview will primarily utilize the online platform Wisr, which gives admitted students the opportunity to speak with current students using discussion threads and community pages organized around their interests. 

According to Joshua Eastman ’22, who is serving as a student ambassador on behalf of Christian Union NOVA and as a Forbes RCA, Wisr has been exceedingly useful in providing admitted students helpful answers to their questions about campus life. 

“I believe virtual Preview and the Wisr preview platform are facilitating an authentic glimpse of life at Princeton insofar as student ambassadors engage in community board discussions,” he wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’

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“Generally, information posted by administration or various offices is extremely helpful for learning exactly what opportunities are available at Princeton; the undergraduate experience of Princeton, however, is best communicated by students,” he added.

According to Crosby, efforts were made to improve programming from last year’s preview, which was converted into a virtual event over the course of three weeks. With more time, the people planning this year’s programming made more of an effort to reach out to families. 

“This year, we had more time to think about what was missing, what really struck a chord, and what audiences we needed to reach. For example, we’ve communicated more with parents and family,” Crosby wrote in her email. 

Orange Key Tour Guides have designed a virtual live tour of the University for students to see campus during springtime. Student organizations and University departments have organized virtual panels and programming for prospective students. 

A large area of programming is geared towards inclusion, much of which is organized by the newly established Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity, formerly known as the Programs for Access and Inclusion.

According to Khristina Gonzalez, senior associate dean of the college and director of the Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity, virtual Preview programming, which began under the Programs for Access and Inclusion, has been geared towards fostering a sense of community for first-generation, low-income (FLI) admittees.   

“We recognize that, especially for FLI students, it can be really difficult to not have the opportunity to visit campus prior to making a decision, as they may not have any sense of the community or the place,” Gonzalez wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’

She wrote that the Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity has “a full slate of events and opportunities designed to give prospective FLI students a sense of the opportunities available to them, the strong FLI community that exists at Princeton, and the wide range of faculty, staff, and fellow students who are here to mentor, support, and empower them.”

Crosby echoed sentiments emphasizing the importance of making new students feel welcome.

“What virtual Preview and in-person Preview have in common is a focus on hospitality; whether people are entering a tent, an auditorium, or a virtual community, our priority is to make them feel welcome and included, which is really the ultimate goal of this event,” she wrote in her email. 

The activities fair, which is normally held during Preview, is being held virtually from April 21–27 through Facebook. Admitted students also have the opportunity to make appointments with the Financial Aid Office. 

Student ambassadors are hopeful that virtual programming will provide an authentic glimpse of life at the University.

Zizi Coleman ’22, who is Cottage bicker chair, a Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP) head fellow, and an Orange Key tour guide, believes virtual Preview provides admittees with a greater opportunity to interact with current students compared to in-person Preview programming in years past. 

“As far as our capabilities, admitted students are really interacting with current students, which I think doesn’t happen as much during in-person Preview due to all the events scheduled back to back, so they are definitely getting authentic Princeton stories from us,” she wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’

Emilio Cano Renteria ’23, an Orange Key tour guide, echoed this sentiment in an email to the ‘Prince’ and believes that virtual Preview will stick around after COVID-19. 

“I think virtual Preview is something that is going to stick even after we (hopefully) return to normality. It really helps promote diversity and equality for students who previously would not have had the time, convenience, or resources to visit campus,” he wrote in his email.

“It also allows prospective students to branch out and meet dozens of different ambassadors, unlike the in-person format, which really only allows them to connect with a few people,” Renteria continued. 

Crosby expressed her amazement at student involvement in virtual programming and willingness to welcome the Class of 2025. 

“What continues to impress me is how much Princeton students love to be a part of this process of welcoming the next class,” she wrote in her email. 

“It really speaks volumes about their love for this institution, and it’s amazing to see students each year who sign up as hosts or ambassadors because of how much a Princeton student impacted their decision to attend,” she finished.  

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