|@St. Norbert August 2008 - First impressions||St. Norbert College|
Armed with a barely visible headset and a warm smile, admissions secretary Jane Gunnlaugsson is perfectly positioned to greet visitors on the phone or in person from just inside St. Norbert’s unofficial front door.
Gunnlaugsson’s desk is angled on the left side of the Office of Admission lobby. Her friendly face has been the college’s first “hello” to many prospective students and their families for 11 years, and sets the tone for a day that may help determine the future of the young visitor.
Making adjustments on the fly
The family scheduled for a two o’clock campus tour is running late, but Gunnlaugsson barely notices. They had called ahead to ask for directions to some local restaurants, so at least she knows they’re in the area.
In the arc of a typical day in which a schedule is nothing more than a starting point for what will actually transpire, having visitors show up a few minutes late hardly merits a mention.
“We’ve had people show up hours early for appointments and hours late,” Gunnlaugsson says. “During Private College Week in July, a lot of people think it’s an open house.”
When the high school junior, his kid sister and parents arrive, Gunnlaugsson is ready with an information packet and a student tour guide to get their visit under way. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s more nervous—the student or the parents. Gunnlaugsson’s own experience as the mother of two St. Norbert graduates, Katie ’02 and Sarah ’05, helps her answer questions from parents new to the college admissions process.
“I know how much work is involved and how confusing this can be,” she says. “I try to keep in mind that this can be overwhelming for some parents.”
One resource to which Gunnlaugsson can steer families is the college’s Financial Aid Office, where staff can help them understand the financial aid process and offer advice on how to make college cost affordable.
Point person for the team
The admission team views Gunnlaugsson’s flexibility as a key component to its overall success. Prior to the visit, she arranges for time with two faculty members, perhaps a coach or fine arts representative, a financial aid counselor, student tour guide and admissions counselor.
“Jane does pretty much everything for us,” notes Eric Wagner ’06 (Admission). “What I see when she’s on the phone and talking to parents is unbelievable, and her time management skills are amazing.”
After greeting visitors and getting them situated in the waiting area, Gunnlaugsson gives the admission counselor her first impressions of the family, such as whether they’re quiet or social.
“That’s a huge asset for us and could help determine whether the family will be back for a second visit or not,” Wagner says. “When we get letters back from visitors—even if they decide not to come to St. Norbert—they talk about how great the experience was. Most of the e-mails and letters I get are about the tour guide and Jane.”
During busy times, the Office of Admission can see more than 50 sets of students and parents per day. Gunnlaugsson’s ability to multitask and roll with the punches helps the entire process flow.
“Jane can handle a diverse group of people, and she has to put up with a lot some days,” notes Dustin Thill (Admission). “Having someone of Jane’s ability is invaluable, and we couldn’t ask for anybody better.”
Athletic recruiting outreach
Men’s basketball coach Gary Grzesk has only been on campus a year and he is the lone full-time member of his staff. He leverages the expertise of the admissions team to enhance his recruiting efforts, and Gunnlaugsson has prepared a checklist of things she needs to prepare for his recruits’ visits.
“The most important piece (of athletic recruiting) is the campus visit itself,” Grzesk states. “Having warm, friendly, outgoing people to meet you at the door is a great start. The amazing thing is, no campus visit ever goes according to plan and Jane’s always juggling numerous tasks at the same time.
“We have a small window to make a good impression, and if there’s something we can do to make it a little more personalized, the admission staff will go above and beyond to make it happen.”
The student-to-student connection
Stephanie Hill ’08 worked two years as one of the student guides for campus tours that begin at the Office of Admission. Along with being the face of the college’s student body for the day, she also e-mailed every incoming freshman and joined a Facebook group to give tech-savvy prospective students additional ways to stay connected.
She says a tour guide needs to pay attention to the needs of all family members because everybody should be able to see the things that particularly interest them. She used to give the students her personal e-mail address, too, understanding there might be things they wanted to ask—but not necessarily with their family there—about the new independent life ahead of them.
Tours can comprise anywhere from one to a half-dozen students and their families. The guides typically interact on a more personal level with the smaller groups, but it all depends on the visitors’ personalities.
“The tour is the first experience most of them have of the campus,” adds Ryan Lobeck ’10, another student guide. “We point out different things around campus and try to make them feel welcome.”
Radical hospitality is a Norbertine value that infuses the whole St. Norbert experience. For more, check out your new copy of the St. Norbert College Magazine, delivered end July - the issue includes a series of articles on the topic. If you do not already receive the magazine but would enjoy a copy of your own, visit the St. Norbert College Magazine web page to subscribe.