NU ‘on the road’ to recruit blacks

With the launch of a new recruiting program in Evanston and Chicago this fall, administrators said they hope to increase African-American enrollment at Northwestern.

The program “On the Road with N.U. Possibilities” will send NU’s African-American outreach coordinator, Melda Potts, to various community locations to promote the university and discuss the college search process in general.

While past recruiting efforts focused on inviting potential African-American students to campus, the new program will go to them.

“It’s about building,” Potts said. “The objective (is) outreach starting early. Now we have an opportunity to reach a greater number of students.”

By taking her message to youth centers, schools and churches, Potts said she hopes to “plant seeds” that encourage prospective students to take the college search process seriously and to include NU in that search.

Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Desler called the new program “absolutely superb” and “much needed” in NU’s recruiting system. “She’s going to where the students are,” Desler said.

Although Potts and Desler noted that tangible results of the program might be several years away, both said they believe “On the Road” will successfully boost African-American enrollment at NU. About 7.2 percent of last year’s incoming class was African American.

In addition to traditional college information handouts, “On the Road” will include interactive presentations using Microsoft Powerpoint, appearances by NU students and student group members, and a “Who Wants to Be a Wildcat?” game for middle school students, Potts said.

Discussing her nearly completed Powerpoint shows on Friday, Potts stressed the variety of information she will present to students.

For high schoolers, the topics will include recommendations for high school classes and information about on-campus support systems for African-American students.

The middle school presentations, along with the flashy Philbin-esque NU trivia game, will emphasize high school preparation for college, Potts said.

The start of “On the Road” follows this summer’s hiring of an additional coordinator for Latino recruitment, continuing the expansion of NU’s outreach programs for minority students. Such programs grew out of the Task Force on Minority Enrollment’s 1997 suggestions for a “Greater Chicago Initiative” to recruit more minority students.

Potts said she worked to bring groups of high school students to visit NU during her first year on the job in 1999-2000, but she thought more could be done this school year.

Inviting groups on campus “wasn’t the way I should have been reaching them,” Potts said. While creating “On the Road” during the summer, Potts said she used her contacts with these groups of students to increase her connections in the Chicago and Evanston areas and to promote the new program.

Education junior Erika Sanders, Potts’ assistant who designed the Powerpoint presentations, said the program should help students from lower-income schools learn more about college in general and overcome past racial discrimination in society.

“We’re trying to give them everything that they need so that they can compete” in the college admissions process, Sanders said.

The first “On the Road” presentation will be Oct. 12 at the James R. Jordan Boys and Girls Club on the west side of Chicago.

There also will be presentations on Oct. 14 at the Second Baptist Church in Evanston and on Oct. 16 at the Saint Sabina Church on the Chicago South Side. All three will be aimed toward high school students.