It’s one of those ideas that makes so much sense that it’s surprising that it hasn’t been tried before.

Efforts to make the University more attractive to potential students from underrepresented groups have led to an increase in applications. But more applications have not led to a corresponding increase in accepted offers; surveys show that minority students turn down UVA in part because other schools feel more personal and welcoming.

There’s now a potential solution to this dilemma. In an effort to send a more inviting message to potential minority applicants, the University is turning to its alumni. This spring, it will launch a pilot program called the Virginia Alumni Admissions Network or VAAN (alumni.virginia.edu/admission/vaan)—a joint venture of the Alumni Association, Office of Admission and UVaClubs—with the initial aim of personally reaching out to minority high school students in New York City, Baltimore, Charlotte, Atlanta and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. The ultimate goal is to offer every applicant—regardless of race—an alumni point of contact to provide information, answer questions and offer encouragement.

“The admission deans can’t be everywhere,” says Cindy Darr Garver (Col ’80), director of alumni services at the Alumni Association, who heads up the new program. “But a lot of younger alumni can meet with students in their own communities and answer questions and give the University a face. That’s going to go a long way.”

“It’s not an interview,” stresses John A. Blackburn, dean of admission. “It’s informational recruiting. It’s trying to contact great kids throughout the country.”

Such alumni outreach programs are fairly common among elite private schools, but UVA “would be the first top-tier public institution in the country to have a network like this,” Garver says.

So far, VAAN is appealing to a new group of alumni—recent graduates, many of them minorities themselves. The Alumni Association contacted African-American and Hispanic alumni and received an enthusiastic response. The respondents—almost all of whom graduated within the past 15 years—recently trained to become the first group of VAAN leaders.

Offering their services to the University is especially attractive to younger alumni who may not yet be in a position to make financial contributions, notes Cindy Frederick, the University’s director of engagement. “The whole idea of what we are trying to do, and what the Alumni Association is trying to do, is finding an idea that speaks to their hearts and interests,” she says.

The ultimate goal is something that’s difficult to pin down, but exceedingly important. Says Garver, “We want to communicate a warm, inclusive environment.”