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U of I wants to focus e-mail

March 5, 2001

Iowa City, Ia. - The University of Iowa wants to use e-mail in a bigger way to contact alumni, donors and potential students.

The trick is doing it in a way that doesn't irritate people, many of whom already delete dozens of messages with barely a glance, said Michael Barron, U of I director of admissions.

Communications from large universities are generally thought of as impersonal, but "people want to feel like you know who they are," Barron said. So, he said, the U of I wants to categorize alumni, donors or potential students by their interests, career fields or locations.

"If you live in California and you get an e-mail about an event on campus next Saturday, it doesn't make much sense," Barron said, but news of a scholarship that Californians are eligible for "might catch their eye."

This fall, the university will begin experimenting with what officials describe as "subgroup mailing," he said.

Jane Dorman, who works in the U of I's College of Engineering, estimates she gets about 50 e-mails each day from parents or potential students. As the college's director of admissions and outreach, she replies to the messages one by one.

"I can see a lot of value in being able to send out some periodic messages to groups," Dorman said. "I send out mailings about every six weeks. It would just be kind of nice for some of those to be able to go through e-mail."

The College of Engineering already reaches a few hundred alumni through a weekly e-mail service designed primarily for students and employees who sign up, said Fred Streicher, associate director in engineering administration.

With unsolicited group e-mails, the university should always provide an easy way to end the service, said Karen Kjar, an alumna in St. Paul, Minn., who receives the engineering e-mails.

"The last thing you want is to just get (alumni) totally annoyed," said Kjar, who is on the college's advisory board.

Kjar doesn't read the full e-mail message she receives each week but says she finds some parts useful or interesting. "It's funny that when it's something you are interested in, you somehow make time," she said. "Part of it is probably that whole school or team spirit. You feel connected to it a bit more."

©l 2001, COLLEEN KRANTZ, The Des Moines Register


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