A pleasant moment in student recruitment12 april 2012, 22:29
I’ll never stop doing journalism, but my “day job”at the moment is teaching at Nazarbayev University.
Being a 21st Century professor means multitasking, and one of those tasks is recruiting students.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. You have to get inside the heads of 17-year-old high school seniors, then punch the buttons that will convince them to come to your university.
I took a two-day recruitment trip to Almaty recently with a colleague, literature Professor Gabe McGuire, whom Nazarbayev University students not only respect but adore.
We talked during the day with students at five high schools – four public and one private – and on the second evening with students and parents at a non-school location.
There is a huge age gap between Gabe and me – he’s the one that’s much younger, I wistfully have to admit -- but we have similar styles of speaking.
We’re both enthusiastic about the subjects we teach and the university we work for – and students can pick up on that immediately.
We’re also pretty good at being funny, which students love.
We got a lot of laughs during our presentations – a good sign, since it meant we were connecting with our audiences.
Gabe and I look somewhat alike, so I started each presentation by joking that I was going to answer a question right away that must be on many of the students’ minds. “He’s not my son – just a much younger colleague,” I grinned.
Every audience responded with chuckles, helping get our presentation off to a good start.
Gabe and I then covered every subject we thought the students might respond to.
We started with the unparalleled academic opportunities at Nazarbayev University. Then we discussed N.U.’s array of top overseas partner universities; its incredible facilities, including state-of-the-art science labs; and the wonderful opportunities for jobs and graduate studies that the university will afford its alumni.
Then we touched on the stimulating student-life environment, including the chance to volunteer at Astana’s world-class conventions and entertainment events.
The high school students listened attentively as I discussed a university-volunteer who ironed Andrea Bocelli’s suits when the Italian opera and pop star sang in the capital a couple of summers ago.
“She was nervous she would do a bad job on the ironing, but she came out fine,” I said, generating smiles from our listeners.
After all the presentations were finished, Gabe and I sat back to discuss how we’d done.
“I think we came out pretty well,” he said. “There seemed to be a lot of interest” in attending the university.
“I felt like we connected, too,” I agreed.
But a gut feeling is one thing, and a concrete sign that we were effective is another.
We got that sign when we returned to Astana.
One of my university students, Julia Nekhoroshih of Shymkent, told me that a student at Public School 159 in Almaty was a friend of hers.
That student had told Julia that she’d decided to come to Nazarbayev University because of Gabe and me.
“Hal Foster and Gabriel McGuire were cool and funny,” she told Julia.
A number of students at other universities where I’ve taught have also told me they enrolled there because of me.
That’s a great feeling for a teacher, but also one fraught with responsibility.
It means you have to be as good in your university classroom every week as on the day you made your high-school recruiting pitch. If not, students you’ve enticed to your university will think they’ve been hornswoggled.
A quality young teacher like Gabe McGuire isn’t going to let that happen. And neither is a guy like me who learned about communication while wearing a powdered wig during George Washington’s speeches.