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Inside Iowa State
Gold bar
August 31, 2001

Iowa State's sales team

by Debra Gibson
Walt Disney would be proud.

Walk through the doors of Alumni Hall, and automatically you're assigned "guest" status. Candy jars flock most desktops. A half-dozen young, friendly professionals dressed in ISU button-downs and khakis are quick with a handshake, a smile, a "great to meet you."

Theirs is the business of recruitment, of attracting the thousands of potential students who eventually flock to campus each August. While headlines blare the statistics that signify another successful fall enrollment, those responsible for the coup have little time to gloat over their success they're packing up for another year on the road, another search for the next Hixson Scholar, the next National Merit prospect, the next Veishea co-chair.

ISU's admission recruiters In another week, these admissions representatives will hit the road, some for five months at a time, as they travel around the country speaking to thousands of potential students. From left are Tom Becker, Carmen Flagge, Drew Hlubek, Heather Fischer, Maura Flaschner and Kelly Miller. Photo by Bob Elbert.
They are the relatively unknown "road warriors" for ISU, the admissions representatives who travel thousands of miles each year to every county in Iowa and throughout the United States. They can transform poster boards and folding tables into an Iowa State kiosk in minutes. They know which convenience stores sell the best coffee and keep the cleanest rest rooms. Their packing skills would put Martha Stewart to shame.

They practically whistle while they work.

"ISU is not a hard sell," said Tom Becker, the veteran among those recruiters interviewed recently. After six years on the road for Iowa State, "to be 'on' is not real difficult for me," Becker explains, "because I love what I do."

What they all do will begin in earnest on Sept. 10, when up to 15 staff members hit the road in the name of enrollment, visiting nearly 25 states, Asia and Latin America. Some, like Heather Fischer and Kelley Miller, will be traveling the Midwest for nearly five solid months. Others, like Maura Flaschner and Carmen Flagge, will intersperse road trips with program responsibilities back on campus. Drew Hlubek will spend most of his time flying to West and East Coast schools. Regardless of territory, these reps will visit four to five high schools during the day, and most likely will showcase the university at a college fair that night.

"It's never hard to be 'on', even by the fourth high school of the day," Fischer said, "but sometimes it is a little hard to get out of the car."

Just getting there poses challenges. According to Hlubek, it can take weeks and sometimes months to pre-pare for the travel season. Mailings, phone calls, e-mails, postcards, more phone calls --all are tools of the trade when vying for time and space in hundreds of high schools.

"Putting together the travel schedules is like working a big jigsaw puzzle," said Stephanie Salasek, associate director of admissions. "Your schedule tells you that you can be in a certain town at a certain time, but a counselor informs you there's an assembly set for then. So now what?"

Eventually, the schedules jell, and engines are started. Remarkably, no reps interviewed ever have been in serious car accidents, nor recollect any who have. (There was the time a deer smashed into the university car Fischer was driving, "but I made it back OK," she remembers. "I just couldn't get the door open after that." And Hlubek was a bit disconcerted when his New York City rental car began flipping its [trunk] lid while parked on a busy street.)

And though they may not always be offered prime real estate once they arrive at the schools ("I've spent a lot of time in nurses' offices," Salasek said), the counselors make the most of their surroundings. "It's not so much that we're recruiting students for Iowa State as we are Iowa State," said Flaschner. "We are expected to know everything about the university -- and if we don't, we're on e-mails and Internet at night to find out."

Some questions, though, never change. "I get a lot of 'Can I bring my horse to campus?'" Becker said. And there are always the, "Are there cows on campus?" and "Is there running water?" Or if you're Hlubek visiting schools on the coasts, "What state is Iowa State in, anyway?"

Life on the road isn't for the meek. Eating alone in restaurants at 10 p.m. is the norm, although several counselors admit to ordering takeout "so we don't look like such losers," Fischer said. Flagge packs candles, favorite books and Starbucks coffee to make her random hotel rooms feel like home. And Becker no longer notices the signs in some of his motel rooms reminding visitors "No cleaning wild game in bathtub."

Ten days from now, they'll be among the hundreds of other enrollment counselors from U.S. colleges and universities wooing potential Cyclones. They'll unpack their energy, their personalities and their carefully studied data and sprinkle it through the chalk-filled air like so much fairy dust. They'll pull out their Sunday-best manners along with their viewbooks and issue the Disney-inspired invitation again and again and again:

"Be our guest."

... Becoming the Best
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
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