Recruiting Diverse Talent to Mason Online Programs

As the Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management for the Raymond A. Mason School of Business portfolio of Online graduate business programs, Kevin Holmes is the conduit between university partners, prospective online students, and the Mason School’s Center for Online Learning.

Holmes came to William & Mary in January 2019 and brought with him nearly twenty years of recruitment experience in higher education. His ability to connect with prospective students and his genuine interest in their stories has served his team well as the number of online students in each academic program and the number of overall online programs offered, grows.

“I identify with the audiences that we serve. Growing up in a predominantly African American community in Virginia, I was familiar with William & Mary and its stellar reputation, however, I was unsure if the university’s environment met some of my social needs as a student,” he explained. “Many of the students I work with today are aware of William & Mary’s great graduate programs, but never considered our university as an option, until they discovered our online platform.”

Holmes is from a tight-knit community and received a tremendous amount of support growing up. As a result, he’s been able to parlay his success into being the first of many things within his family – he was the first to graduate college, the first to obtain a graduate degree, and the first to pursue a career in an academic environment.

“College was always a conversation in my household growing up. There was always an emphasis on using education as a foundation to achieve the lifestyle that you want. But I think its easier for people to tell you how to do something if they’ve never done it,” he said. “I experienced a lot of challenges and pitfalls as a student on the undergraduate and graduate level. I enjoy hearing the stories of our online students all who are working professionals, and many who are first-generation college graduates. Like many of our online students, I too, had to work full-time while pursuing my masters. You don’t know what you don’t know. I think my testament to longevity in this industry is that I’m trying to be what I needed for myself as an undergraduate and graduate student by creating a smoother pathway for students going through a similar experience”

Entering Higher Ed

A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, Holmes was a natural leader among his peers and his competitive nature motivated him to perform well academically.

“I never wanted to be average,” he said. “Education was the platform I felt was attainable but the challenge was I didn’t have enough exposure or guidance to maximize or optimize opportunities available to me. I had to learn a lot on my own and recreate the wheel when it wasn’t necessary.”

Holmes attended George Mason University where he earned his B.A. in Business Communications and M.S. in Organizational Development. He was active on campus, serving as a head resident advisor, as the vice-president of his fraternity, and on the student programming board. But he had never worked or volunteered in admissions or given a campus tour, so his foray into working in higher education was purely by chance.

“I found a job posting in the Washington Post classified section after applying to several different types of positions that ended up not being a good fit. I saw a position, clear as day, to be an admissions counselor at George Mason which required recruitment skills, writing abilities, and flexibility to travel. I thought to myself, I can do all those things,” he explained.

Holmes was ultimately offered the position upon graduation and began his career in college admissions. That first opportunity exposed him to the industry and allowed him to network with a variety of stakeholders involved in the application process.

“It showed me that it takes a village of mentors, sponsors, and professionals to make a university and higher education as a whole, work,” he said. “I learned that you have to have a group of individuals who care; you don’t have to be black to care about black students, and you don’t have to be white to care about white students. You just have to care. We are in a heart business and it’s important to be motivated to serve others.”

Holmes went on to work in admissions and in leadership roles at Norfolk State University and the University of Maryland University College system as well as for organizations like Project Discovery Virginia and Year Up prior to joining William & Mary.

“I got into higher education by chance and then realized that I could make a career out of it,” Holmes said. “I put a lot of time and attention and talent into my development to be the best student and professional I could be. I came to William & Mary because I wanted to be a part of an institution with a rich history and dedicated resources to growing online programs.”

Enhancing the Student Experience

Holmes has certainly aided in the growth of the Mason School’s online business programs in the two years he’s been with the university. He’s leveraged his expertise to break down barriers and influence processes which ultimately affect the student experience.

“It is important we ensure that we have the right ecosystem around students to be successful, from policy to technology, especially for students who didn’t receive strong guidance or advising as an undergraduate,” he explained. “For example, the market was dictating that most working professionals aren’t taking the GMAT so why would we continue to incorporate a tool that is going to be a potential barrier for students that we want to serve?”

In addition to his work supporting the Center for Online Learning, Holmes is also driving change within the Mason School through his active involvement on the Diversity & Inclusion Committee. He recently chaired the Climate Subcommittee and led efforts to develop and establish an ombudsman panel of Executive Partners to serve as a third-party sounding board for faculty and staff seeking mediation and conflict resolution support.

“The timing was right for me to become active in the D&I Committee and figure out how I can play a larger role in creating synergies and an overall welcoming environment for students regardless of color, creed, ethnicity, background, and socioeconomic status,” he said. “William & Mary is a place where anyone who is intellectually curious and has a passion for education and learning can make their goals happen and feel a sense of belonging at the same time.”

Moving forward, Holmes hopes to help transition the Mason School into the next evolution of higher education and work with student ambassadors to promote the online graduate business experience at William & Mary to prospective students.

“I would like to bring their stories to the forefront to share what a great place this is to learn and be a part of. I am an intrapreneur in that I like being a part of an organization and working to make it better. I enjoy being a father to my 10-year-old son, a colleague, a friend, and it’s my hope that I can help better any one or any organization that I’m affiliated with.”