Volunteering at college fairs takes little time but can change a student’s life

Published in Winter-Spring 2016 edition of ACU Today magazine

To Megan (Haggerton ’10) Winkler, the interaction she and husband Jeremy Winkler (’12) had with a Fort Worth-area male high school student while volunteering at a college fair one night seemed average – pleasant, but unremarkable.

To that student, however, his meeting the Winklers was potentially life-changing.

Megan recalls answering some of the student’s questions regarding financial aid and degree plans, but mostly, she and Jeremy described their ACU experience: a place where they made lifelong friendships with Christians and received a top-notch education.

At the end of the fair, the student returned to the ACU table with a message for the Winklers.

“He told us that after talking with us about everything ACU had to offer, he felt God put something on his heart that he was meant to go to ACU,” Megan said. “Moments like that are what make us thankful we had the chance to attend a university that is Christ-centered and focused on providing its students with opportunities to go out into the world and make it a better place.”

Alumni play an important role in representing Abilene Christian in their communities, volunteering to represent the university at hundreds of college fairs across the nation our full-time recruiters can’t attend, said Kris Evans, executive director of enrollment.

“The willingness of our alumni to share stories and time to impact the lives of future Wildcats is one of the most important ways to give back to the university,” Evans said.

Volunteering also has a way of reminding alumni of how well ACU prepared them for their lives and careers.

“We left our first fair encouraged that we made the right choice when we decided to attend ACU,” Megan Winkler said. “We were reminded of the value our experiences continue to add to our lives.”

‘I owe a lot to ACU’

The process for volunteering at a college fair begins with university relations managers (URMs), who approach alumni in their markets they think will do well interacting with attendees and representing ACU.

Friendly, outgoing and positive are desired attributes, said Brent Barrow (’86), URM for the Fort Worth area. Recent graduates make great volunteers because they relate well with students. Parents of students who had a positive experience also bring a helpful perspective, he said.

“Age isn’t important,” Barrow said, “as long as the one volunteering loves ACU.”

The URMs give the volunteer’s contact information to the office of Alumni Relations, where administrative coordinator Suzanne (Michna ’89) Sims and student employees compile a kit to send their way – ACU in a box. They receive a tablecloth, mini tabletop banner, fact sheets, giveaways, a purple T-shirt to wear and a pre-paid package to mail everything (minus the T-shirt) back.

Sometimes, an admissions counselor is present, especially at bigger events. At others, it’s up to the volunteer to field questions. If they can’t answer specific questions, it’s OK – attendees can leave their information to be contacted by someone in Admissions.

Jared Fields (’08), who often volunteers at events in the Marble Falls area, doesn’t worry about not having all the answers, he said, adding that students and parents respect that volunteers have different day jobs and are doing this on their own time.

Fields describes his role as simply continuing his ACU journey.

“I owe a lot to ACU and want to take advantage of any opportunity to tell people about it,” he said.

‘Authentic testimony’

College fairs can be overwhelming to all involved.

Often conducted in school hallways, cafeterias and gymnasiums, high schoolers and parents are presented with an abundance of education options in a short amount of time and a small amount of space. Making an impression is important, and Fields says his aim is to be clear in his message and able to go more in-depth with those interested.

Common questions revolve around the different areas of study offered and how many students attend. Recently, the construction on the science and engineering facilities has been of interest to many, Fields said; two years ago, it was the move to Division I in athletics. Parents tend to ask about test scores and financial aid; their children veer more toward campus life and what’s available to do in Abilene.

Thannum volunteered to work at a college fair in the school district where she teaches in South Lake, Texas.“It’s fun to share my memories with people who want to know a more personal side to the ACU experience,” said Riley Thannum (’15), a teacher in the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake who recently volunteered at a college fair at Carroll Senior High School. “I talked a lot about how I love the intimate community at ACU where you really feel a part of a family rather than just another face in the crowd.”

Likewise, in a crowd of attendees, ACU volunteers stand out for having lived the experience they are describing and are now working in the fields in which they studied.

“I got to talk to one student who was interested in studying education,” Thannum said, “and I was able to go more in depth with her about how well ACU prepared me to work in a high-performing school district like Carroll ISD.

“It’s important to show prospective students how well ACU prepares its graduates for their futures,” Thannum said. “I like being able to share my experience as an authentic testimony to that, and I think others should do the same.”