Over 1,000 attend revamped open house

By Noah Thornburgh

DeKALB — As prospective students and their families tracked snow into the Convocation Center, Director of Admissions Quinton Clay bounced between check-in tables set up in the lobby and greeted his staff.

“I’m a morning person, and I’m caffeinated,” he said in excitement.

Clay ran Monday’s open house, where a little fewer than 1,250 potential Huskies braved slick roads from as far as Michigan to see what NIU has to offer. From 9 to 10:20 a.m., families orbited the basketball court and visited informational booths promoting the university’s colleges and offices.

Clay spent the hour orbiting with them, answering questions or approaching those whom he said seemed confused.

Lauren Logsdon, who plans to transfer to NIU from Rock Valley College, approached Clay with an exuberant “hi.”

“Another morning person,” Clay said with a smile.

Logsdon drove with her mother from Belvidere, a “terrible” drive through the snow, but she thinks it was worth it.

“I have dreamed about this school since I was in high school,” she said.

Clay thinks this particular type of interest makes NIU stand out among the competition.

“Sometimes it’s about the experience,” he said. “Sometimes it’s about a demonstrated interest in the school. Sometimes it’s about convenience.”

He gave the hypothetical example of a high school graduate in Naperville who could pick from a range of closer competitors like North Central College, Elmhurst College and Aurora University. They need to have a demonstrated interest in NIU to make the drive out to DeKalb, he said.

He said open house attendees display a “high affinity” for NIU in particular, which gives them a reason to drive out to DeKalb.

Clay revamped the open house program this semester with this idea in focus. The program used to begin with a welcome presentation at 9 a.m. — this semester, people wandered into the Convocation Center and around the fair at their own pace. Clay said this centralizes the many parts of the university that contribute to the enrollment and recruitment process, rather than focusing on the admissions office’s promotional efforts.

“Sharing credit isn’t political for me,” he said. “It’s authentic.”

Clay’s desire for authenticity drives much of his recruitment philosophy.

“I’m seeing the tide turning in the industry,” he said. “Students are much more sensitive; they don’t want to be pandered to.”

Clay said the unstructured fair was meant to make people feel like they weren’t being served statistics they could have gotten online. Booths were staffed by professors, administrators and graduate assistants of the departments.

“All this works together to be the most authentic presentation of who we are,” he said.

The Alumni Association table was the first to greet people using entrance one. Mona Salmon, a volunteer and former director of the evening Master of Business Administration program, said she’s looking to reconnect with alumni returning with their kids.

Jeffrey Salmon manned the Office of Military and Post-traditional Students table further in. He said commuters and families with military benefits approached him.

The Office of Financial Aid commanded the largest crowd. Two posters displaying the details of the recently-announced full-tuition Huskie Pledge grant bookended the office’s three-table spread.

“The admission letter does not let you go to college,” Clay said while he skirted the edge of the crowd. “The financial aid package does.”

Uzziel Zarate, a soon-to-be high school graduate from Rochelle, watched the marching band play before the welcome presentation with his family. The band is a new addition to the open house.

Zarate said he wants to come to NIU for music education, so seeing the band is right up his alley.

Judy Santacaterina, director of the Bachelor of General Studies program, sat courtside while she waited to give her welcome speech. She leapt to her feet during the Huskie fight song, chanting the letters and pumping her arm in the air.

Counting her years as an undergraduate, Santacaterina said she is a 45th-year Huskie. She said her experience as a student was defined by her connections with faculty, and she tries to model those connections with her students now.

“This place might seem very big, very cold and impersonal,” she said. “Please remember that’s the furthest thing from the truth … As for the cold, I was speaking metaphorically.”