Johns Hopkins Gazette | February 23, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 23, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 23
Blogging a Big Hit for Admissions

Students' real-life JHU stories have great appeal to applicants

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Clare Richardson spent a good portion of Intersession, her first at Johns Hopkins, in the glow of the big screen. Richardson flew out to Park City, Utah, this January to indulge her cinephile side at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

She attended 24 screenings and got to rub shoulders with the likes of Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and The Office's John Krasinksi. She even met the Sundance kid himself, Robert Redford, who gladly posed for a photo with the freshman Writing Seminars and Film and Media Studies major.

Richardson details her adventure in the most recent guest blog on Hopkins Interactive, a Web site that is fast becoming an integral part of the university's admissions pitch.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions for the Homewood schools launched Hopkins Interactive in December 2005 to offer a view of JHU from the inside out. The centerpiece of the site is a collection of blogs in which current Arts and Sciences and Engineering students document their lives here, everything from the classroom experience to the weekend scene in Baltimore. Currently, Hopkins Interactive publishes regularly updated blogs from 20 full-time students representing each undergraduate class. The site also features message boards, student profiles and videos.

The guest blog feature was added one month after the site's launch to provide a forum for students to share — on a one-time basis — a JHU-related experience with prospective applicants.

To date, Admissions has published 120 guest blog entries, which often incorporate photos taken by the author.

The site,, routinely gets 500 "hits" a week and has been increasingly mentioned in applications, admission interviews and surveys as a reason why the high school senior chose to apply to Johns Hopkins. The blog proved so popular, in fact, that the Admissions Office created "The Blue Jay Buffet" page to let faculty, staff and alumni post entries to represent more aspects of the Johns Hopkins experience.

Daniel Creasy, associate director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the mastermind behind Hopkins Interactive, says that the blogs offer an immediate and inexpensive way to market Johns Hopkins to a Web-savvy audience.

Creasy said that Richardson's story is a personal favorite of his.

"Publishing a story about a freshman Film and Media Studies student who, in her first five months here, got to attend the Sundance Film Festival as part of an independent study project is better marketing than anything we can do," Creasy says. "We want the bloggers to tell others what life is like here, and we're constantly on the lookout for unique and newsworthy experiences like Clare's that we can share."

Richardson says that she was only too happy to contribute to Hopkins Interactive. She'd never written a blog before but recalled how helpful the guest blog was in finding out more about Johns Hopkins when she was applying to schools.

"I thought it was great that the school provided this forum. You get to see a personal side of campus life and hear about the unique opportunities open to undergraduates," Richardson says. "I really enjoyed reading them."

A new guest blog, which is typically five to 10 paragraphs in length, gets posted each Monday during the academic year.

In addition to Richardson's story, other recent guest blogs have recounted stories of students on archaeological digs in Egypt, volunteering for the Johns Hopkins Tutorial Project and participating in 4K for Cancer, an annual 4,000-mile bicycle trek from the Homewood campus to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Carolyn Purington, a junior biomedical engineering major, used the guest blog to recount her experience in Ecuador for the Johns Hopkins chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

Purington traveled to the South American country this summer as part of an effort to design, fund and construct a children's nursery in the small village of Santa Rosa de Ayora. Purington and other Johns Hopkins students spent their first five days in Quito, Ecuador's capital city, to visit several children's nurseries in order to observe floor plans and organizational setup. They also traveled to Santa Rosa de Ayora itself to survey the site and meet with community members to determine their exact needs for the nursery.

In the blog, Purington talks of her journey and explains how and why she got involved with Engineers Without Borders during her freshman year.

"I had actually heard about Engineers Without Borders before I decided where I was going to college," she writes. "And I was excited to realize that Johns Hopkins had an active chapter. I joined the Ecuador team because I had an interest in improving my Spanish and experiencing Latin American culture. Although I am studying biomedical engineering, I enjoy applying the basic engineering principles, fundamental to any discipline of engineering, to the project."

Purington, co-leader of the Ecuador team, says that writing the blog was both fun and easy.

"I just sat down and reflected on my trip," she says. "I thought it was a good way for people, especially those interested in engineering, to know what goes on here."

Creasy instructs the guest bloggers to write for an outside audience and to keep the tone simple and personal.

"The form is very open-ended," he says. "They can share the good and the bad."

For The Blue Jay Buffet, more than 20 blogs have been posted. Parents have shared stories about school searches, parents' weekend, empty nest syndrome and watching their child mature. Alumni have reflected on their undergraduate days and how the experience led them to their current job or graduate program. One recent alum wrote how Johns Hopkins helped land him his dream job at Google.

The guest blog has featured only two faculty members to date, and Creasy is looking for more to talk about what they do and why they like to work with undergraduates.

"Not just faculty; we are actively trying to recruit students, staff and alumni to submit guest blogs to Hopkins Interactive," he says. "If you have a story to share, we'd love to hear from you."

When Hopkins Interactive was launched, only five to 10 universities nationwide hosted such a page, Creasy says. Today, nearly 150 major universities have a blog feature on their admissions site. "But only a handful have gone as far as we have," he says.

Anecdotal evidence has told Creasy and others at the Admissions Office that the blogs have had a positive impact. In recent surveys of admitted students, the Hopkins Interactive site ranked higher than the Office of Admissions home page and the JHU main page in helping them choose the university.

"Several students have mentioned the blogs in their application essays. I recall one student who chose to major in neuroscience because of a blog entry," he says. "Admitted students have also told us in person that the blogs made Hopkins feel real to them."

John Latting, dean of Undergraduate Admissions, says that these blog entries are an important way to inform prospective students and their parents about life at Hopkins. He says they truly reflect the diversity of talent and ideas on the Homewood campus.

"Hopkins Interactive focuses on our students and their real lives," Latting says. "Johns Hopkins still has a hard-edged image in the world. People think Hopkins is all work and no play, all productivity and no personality. That's not true, and we are using the blogs to help tell the real story."

What's the Admissions Office's next blog ambition? It soon plans to launch another blog page that will feature a student entry representing each undergraduate major and minor. Students will be able to talk about their program and why they chose to study classics or public health studies.

"That is my next big project," Creasy says. "I've created a blog monster."

To see all the blogs and contribute, go to


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