SIUC’s secret weapon

By Gus Bode

Hundreds of prospective students travel to SIUC every year not knowing a thing about the university besides what they’ve heard from recruiters and Playboy Magazine.

For many of them, the first glimpse of campus they get is provided by the Saluki Ambassador Program, a group of student volunteers with one goal on their minds – recruitment.

The campus tours the Ambassadors provide are often the deciding factor whether the student chooses SIUC over another university, said admissions coordinator Katharine Suski.


“The number one thing that makes students choose SIU Carbondale, research shows, is a campus visit, so we want them to have the best,” she said. “It’s the environment. It’s the feel of campus. It’s the experience they’re having here, and that’s the hard thing to put in a book or publication.”

Suski said she designed the program in 2002 to provide potential students with a “positive, realistic, student-focused reflection of the university.”

She said the tours used to be given by Student Affairs workers, but the tours lacked the enthusiasm a volunteer student provides.

“To hear it from a current student is 10 times more powerful,” she said. “They can go talk to the professor or the administrator, but it’s that student that they connect with, because that student has just made the decision [to come to the university]. They’re living it, and it’s panning out for them.”

Meagan Johnston, a high school senior from Wheaton, saw SIUC for the first time Saturday during an Ambassador tour. She said she heard about the school from previous graduates, but wanted to see the campus for herself before making her college decision.

Johnston said she was impressed by the campus view the tour provided.

“It’s really pretty,” she said, “especially the woods and all that.”


Suski said the tour goes through Thompson Woods because it is a sight many students, especially from the north, are not used to.

But Johnston – who already toured schools in northern Illinois, including Elmhurst College and Northern Illinois University – said it wasn’t just the nature that set SIUC apart.

“The people were really friendly,” she said. “NIU, they’re friendly, but it’s a different kind of friendly. They’re more open here.”

Suski said the friendly, individualized approach is something the program strives for. She said the goal is to get one tour guide per visitor with a similar major or hometown, but they need more volunteers to achieve this.

Suski said the 25 student volunteers the program currently has do not get paid, but do receive university volunteer credit, public speaking skills and a highlight for their resume.

“We’ve got to have our current students involved in recruitment,” she said. “Bringing in good students should be everybody’s job, because it increases the reputation of the university.”

Barbi Wheelden, a freshman from Sparta studying mechanical engineering, said she started volunteering with the program in September. She gives tours two hours per week on average.

“It’s really not that difficult to know things about the school because you live here and go to school here, but you realize that the people that are coming don’t know anything, so you’re the expert and it’s fun to help them make that decision,” she said. “If you love the school, it’s a great way to give back to it.”

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