All In: The Networks That Move the University
TEAMWORK IN RECRUITING
As the economy collapsed in the fall of 2008, uncertainty reigned. But one thing on campus was clear. The university’s resiliency would in many ways hinge on the performance of its admissions staff.
“Not that we felt any pressure,” said a laughing David Duzik, Nebraska Wesleyan’s director of admissions. He may laugh about it now, but that fall, Duzik and his staff knew a financial hit was coming to the university. And they knew that if enrollment dropped as well, that hit would be compounded.
Duzik recalled team meetings where his staff coordinated and sharpened its approach in response. Like a team down at halftime, they focused on the things they could control: the consistency of their message, the caliber of students they pursued and the integrity with which they worked every day.
“We were lucky in a lot of ways,” Duzik said. “Our product didn’t decrease.” The education many schools could afford to offer prospective students in 2009 no longer matched what they’d offered in 2007. But NWU had remained uncompromising. “We could tell prospective students and parents that NWU wasn’t cutting programs,” Duzik said. “We stressed value in everything.”
They also stressed teamwork. Duzik’s admissions staff is comprised of several former student-athletes, including a national championship-winning men’s golf coach and a former NWU all-American sprinter. Duzik knew that teamwork had never been—and never would be—a tough sell with this staff. But what did surprise even Duzik was the way that sense of teamwork in recruiting stretched well beyond his small team of admissions and financial aid counselors.
The admissions staff has always enjoyed the full support of NWU professors and coaches. Professors give their time to meet with prospective students and parents during campus visits, and they play meaningful roles in countless admissions events on and off campus. Coaches regularly coordinate their own recruiting efforts and ideas with counselors. That collaboration only deepened as the economy soured.
That brand of teamwork has long been NWU’s modus operandi. But what was new and pleasing to Duzik was the growing role that alumni play in recruiting. He said, “That’s the biggest opportunity for us right now: finding more ways to welcome alumni into our conversations with prospective students and families.”
The approach resonates well with parents. “They want to know that their children will be successful,” Duzik said. “Hearing from alumni helps show them the entire picture.” They see the involvement of our current students, the supportiveness of our faculty and staff, and the enthusiasm and success of our alumni. It completes an arch. And parents feel positively about their sons and daughters joining that tradition.
Shelly Blake, Nebraska Wesleyan’s regional alumni programs coordinator, also sees positive things in alumni’s growing role in student recruitment. She pointed to recent alumni/admissions events in Phoenix and Denver as examples. In January, roughly 80 regional alumni, staff, current students, prospects and their families met and mingled in Denver. The event showed prospective students and parents the closeness of the Nebraska Wesleyan community; it also showed alumni that their stories about the university’s past play a meaningful role in the university’s present and future.
“These events are so positive for alumni partly because all we ask is for them to share their stories and their enthusiasm,” said Blake. “Sometimes they’re surprised we don’t ask them to take out their checkbooks. But what we’re looking for at these networking events is their engagement.”
She continued, “It’s just a different feeling of ownership when you’re asked to share not just your financial resources but your experiences and energy.”
Anna Castner Wightman (‘89) has made a particular effort to recommend NWU to students and families searching for colleges. She is just as proud of this kind of contribution to the university as she is of her donations to the school. “It’s just a personally satisfying experience to recommend a student and know they will be in good hands if they choose to experience Nebraska Wesleyan,” she said.
“Both Jack (Wightman) (’89) and I are the third generations in our families to attend NWU,” she added. “We want to make sure NWU remains vibrant, competitive, and affordable for future generations of our own family and for all students.” Making sure prospective students and families hear what NWU is all about is another way to ensure the university’s ongoing strength.
Alumni sharing stories with prospective families “isn’t just reminiscing,” said Duzik. “It’s not just nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. The stories have a purpose.” They share what is great about this university and invite more students and families to be a part of it.
The event in Denver was a successful “trial run” for this model of involving alumni in regional recruiting. Blake, Duzik and others are excited to replicate what works in other areas like Omaha and Kansas City. But alumni can get in- volved in recruiting regardless of where they live. We can share the names of prospective students in our areas at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can let relatives know about the $1,000 renewable Alumni Legacy Award available to the siblings, children and grandchildren of NWU alumni.
“You can also let prospective families know that ours is a supportive community,” said Duzik. “And if NWU represents the right fit for them, let them know we’ll do whatever we can to help them come and thrive here.”
That spirit of togetherness and support is at the heart of the university’s resiliency in this—or any—economic climate.