Building a SHIP - Outreach

We've got a few more topics to cover in the Building a SHIP series. We still have to cover:

  • The Crew
  • Curricular Choices
  • The long term plan
  • Site and funding

But for today, we'll talk outreach.

Outreach proved to be particular challenge for SHIP. Our entire crew is made up of teachers. That meant that we couldn't communicate with schools during business hours. That made things particularly tough. I could send emails after hours or set up emails to be sent at specific times during the day, but we couldn't call while at our day jobs. As a result, this led to a vary long communication loop and we could never be sure that information about SHIP was getting to the right people.

We did have a small number of non-teacher volunteers and they were invaluable but they had limited knowledge from the teaching side.

So, we had the volunteers try to call schools during the day and we followed up by emailing a flyer and link to a web site. We tried to emphasize that we needed help from the schools in finding the right students – that is students who might not have even considered something like SHIP but where we could potentially turn them on to something new.

In spite of this, we did get over 200 applicants for our 48 slots. I have no idea how this compares to similar programs.

There were many terrific applications, but there were some head scratching situations. There were some incomplete applications which I attribute to students who weren't really interested in the program, but I was surprised by two things on the student side.

First, sme times we needed a little more information from a student so we sent an email to the addresses (primary and backup) that they listed in the application. Some times students got right back to us. Other times it took days or even weeks. In one case, we weren't able to accept the student because he didn't get back to us until after the selection process was over. I know that not everyone reads or responds to emails promptly but I was surprised since these were cases of students who wanted to partake in our program.

Another thing that surprised me is that we almost lost a couple of students because they thought the program would cost too much. We tried to make it as clear as possible that we offered financial assistance and in many cases could cover all fees but apparently we weren't as clear as I had hoped.

The one really big shock to me involved recommendations. We required our applicants provide one email address for someone that agreed to write a recommendation letter and allowed for a second, optional one. We then contacted these recomenders. If we didn't hear back, we sent reminder emails and asked the applicants to prod the recommenders as well.

We had a return rate of about 10%. This cut across type of school (public, private, parochial, and charter) and grade (rising 9 through 12). As a teacher myself, I know of some colleagues who don't actually write recs they agree to write but I was shocked that we only heard back from 10%. The end result was that we could use a recommendation to help an applicant but we didn't feel that it was fair to penalize a student just because a teacher didn't send in a rec.

As a final though on outreach, it should get easier for us over time. SHIP is going great and next year, we'll be a known quantity to schools. We should also have our cadre of shipmates helping spread the word and of course, we want them back for another summer of more advanced work.

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