By Katie Ronske
Maggie Fields remembers how a friend returned home after her freshman year at college in love -- not with a fellow in her dorm, but with Ohio University. Still in high school at the time, Fields knew she wanted that same kind of connection with her college, and she knew where she'd go to find it.
"After hearing how great the campus was, I knew that I wanted to be an OU student," Fields said. "I was so intent on going here that I didn't even apply anywhere else."
Now a sophomore, Fields plans to share her experiences at Ohio University with students at her alma mater, Conneaut High School, over winter break. She and some 45 other Ohio University students will visit their high schools to share their experiences and answer questions as part of the Visit Your Hometown program.
The program, more than 10 years old, is run by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
"Students are one of our greatest resources," said Melanie Hayden, associate director of multicultural recruitment. "They live and breathe Ohio University every day, so why not let them help us spread the good word about the wonderful things that are happening here at the institution?"
Hayden and other admissions administrators hope that providing prospective students with a sense of college life will supplement a comprehensive recruitment strategy to produce strong enrollment numbers in the face of a diminishing pool of college-age students.
"This program is part of what we are trying to do comprehensively to show that Ohio University is interested in recruiting the best and the brightest," Hayden said. "It is important that we do that more because we are competing with other colleges and universities for these students."
India Pierce, program assistant for pipeline and recruitment initiatives, conducts 30-minute training sessions to help program participants tackle high school students' questions and provide them with fast facts about the university. Participants also receive marketing materials to acquaint themselves with university information and are instructed to direct prospective students to the Web for questions they can't answer.
"Students always get questions about residence halls from people who have never shared a room before," Pierce said. "That's where the students' personal experience comes in handy.
"We let students know that we don't expect them to be experts, that is the admissions counselors' job," Pierce said. "We give them as much information as we can, based on what we think high school students might ask."
Following their training session, Ohio University students contact their high school guidance counselor to set a date to visit the school. Then Pierce sends counselors a formal letter describing the program and distinguishing it from a visit by an admissions professional.
Although there is no quantitative data to determine the success of the program, an online survey participants fill out allows admissions to develop new ideas and training methods for future years.
"We are not at a place where we can say that this program is the only thing that made a student want to come to Ohio University," Hayden said, "but it is a part of a much larger recruitment strategy."
And with this winter break's participants ranging from dancers to future engineers, high school students will hear a plethora of Ohio University experiences firsthand. All will have unique stories to tell, but their commitment to Ohio University represents a common bond.
"Being here is even better than I expected," Fields said. "I love OU and want other students to know what it is like here and at least consider the possibility of coming."