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Road warriors

Road Warriors Get Ready to Roll

September 15, 2014
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Each fall, WPI Admissions staff members earn their “road warrior” nicknames as they embark on weeks-long, world-wide trips to recruit international students and build on relationships with alumni and families of current students from far away.

Karen Goudey sets up a table for a college fair at a
high school in Kolkata, India, last fall.

“Meeting a representative from WPI brings what I heard to life and adds a nice personal touch to the whole process.” – Sophomore Shao “Billy” Zhou

Karen Goudey, senior associate director of admissions, says her five-and-a-half-week trip this fall helps potential undergraduate and graduate students across the globe learn more about WPI than they ever could from looking online or at catalogs.

“This is what we do,” says Goudey. “Whether it’s a high school down the street or one around the world. We visit high schools, hold events, offer interviews, and get the word out.”

Students might travel thousands of miles from home to come to WPI, but that doesn’t mean the decision is easy on them or their families. The admissions staff knows how important their efforts are. Just the process of talking with students and parents, shaking hands, and answering questions builds a relationship and establishes trust, says Goudey.

Shao “Billy” Zhou, a sophomore double major in robotics engineering and math, first met Goudey when she visited Singapore, where he was finishing up high school. Although he had seen WPI online, Goudey’s descriptions of the school and explanations of the project-based learning approach helped make a connection. “Meeting a representative from WPI brings what I heard to life and adds a nice personal touch to the whole process,” he says.

No matter how or where they travel, the intent is always the same – spreading the word about WPI’s academic reputation and research, offering guidance on the admissions process, and giving reassurance that someone will support them every step of the way.

In many countries the college admissions process is much simpler or is even determined by test scores, says Goudey. The typical American process includes not only test scores, but also letters of recommendation and an essay or statement of purpose. “The admissions process can be confusing and overwhelming,” she says. “Plus, they are doing it in another language.”

Ahmad Abojaradeh, a senior mechanical engineering major, says meeting Goudey in person changed his path entirely. He knew about WPI, but thought engineering schools were only about studying. “I looked at the website, but nothing spoke to me,” he says.  When he met Goudey in Jordan, her enthusiasm and knowledge helped him relate to the school. “She painted such a vivid picture that I really understood WPI,” says Abojaradeh. “She encouraged me. Seeing someone puts a face to the university, someone who can tell you what it’s really like. It’s a totally different experience.”

And Abojaradeh says the support has continued—especially important for international students whose families are far away. “If I have any problems, I know she will be there,” he says.

NO TWO TRIPS THE SAME

While the road warriors might return to the same high schools yearly, they often might visit a new country or new region. No trips are ever the same. Sometimes, they are able to address several grades at once, and other times they sit in the cafeteria where students can choose to talk with them – or not. Sometimes they visit only guidance counselors and no students. Occasionally staff members travel with other admissions staff, or they meet up with colleagues and travel to certain areas together. Other times, they travel to schools alone.

Road warriors have to overcome some stereotypes along the way. They might have to inform students like Abojaradeh, who thought engineering schools didn’t offer much leeway for other interests, know of WPI’s thriving student organizations. Or, a cultural issue might be at play. “The word ‘polytechnic’ in other countries can denote a junior college,” says Goudey. “So I need to explain that we are a university focused on STEM fields and business, but with a strong focus in humanities and arts, too.”

The road warriors are the face of WPI, but the first meeting is only the beginning of a long collaborative effort that enriches both students and staff.

“I gain a great sense of satisfaction seeing the students through this whole process,” says Goudey. “It’s really helping them achieve their goals.”

– BY JULIA QUINN-SZCESUIL

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