October 29, 2007

Bender focused on agriculture college's enrollment

by K.C. Jaehnig


CARBONDALE, Ill. — The College of Agricultural Sciences at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has learned this: If it works, keep doing it.

"Enrollment is actually growing, and our placement is good," said Kristy A. Bender, who replaced Lucas D. Maxwell as the college coordinator of recruitment, retention and placement Sept. 1.

"The dean (Gary L. Minish) wants to build on what's been successful and continue on the path they have been following for the past three years while looking to see if there's anything else out there that we can do."

Because enrollment is playing such a critical role at SIUC these days, Bender's immediate challenge centers on boosting student numbers in the college's seven major fields of study. By fall of 2008, she hopes to have added 19 students in agribusiness economics, 13 students in animal science, 22 students in human nutrition and dietetics, 18 students in hospitality and tourism administration, 16 students in forestry, 14 students in plant and soil science, and 10 students in agricultural systems.

These goals are "absolutely doable," she said with enthusiasm. For one thing, the college offers a novel mix of fields.

"In many cases, the schools in Illinois offer complementary rather than competing curricula — it's just a matter of finding the best fit for the student," she said.

Then, too, the college encompasses a broad range of disciplines, making its majors a good choice for city folks as well as country dwellers.

"There are many opportunities in urban forestry, human nutrition and dietetics, hospitality and tourism, and we have accredited programs in these areas," Bender noted.

Finally, the atmosphere, both on campus and in the college itself, is welcoming and supportive.

"Everyone wants students to succeed here — they're really proud of what the students accomplish, and it shows," she said.

"Also, faculty are doing research that students can be involved in, and they're connected to people in industry so they can help students understand what they need to do to be successful, not only in school but after they graduate."

Bender credits a large part of the college's previous recruitment success to a web of e-mails, phone chats and face-to-face visits with high school and community college advisers and students — a process she plans to continue. The Agbassadors, current SIUC ag students with recruitment as one of their charges, help enormously in this respect, Bender said.

"This year, each Agbassador has contracted to visit 10 schools," she said. "I know that's ambitious, but they have so much enthusiasm and excitement about the college."

Bender also is working on updates for all the recruitment and retention material that goes on the college Web site, http://www.coas.siu.edu.

"Everyone is on the Internet these days to get information," she said.

In addition to going out to meet potential students, the college encourages such students to come to it.

"The dean says if we can just get people on campus, they will want to enroll," Bender said with a laugh.

The next open house takes place Saturday, Nov. 3. An all-university information session will run from 9 to 11: 30 a.m. at the SIUC Student Recreation Center, 300 E. Grand Ave. From noon on, students may tour the agriculture buildings, meet the faculty and, if they wish, visit the University Farms.

Can't catch the open house but want to know more? Not a problem, Bender said.

"When people say they're interested, we want them to know they can come on campus any time for an individualized visit," she said.

For more information about the college or the open house schedule, e-mail Bender at kbender@siu.edu, call her at 618/453-3080 or write to her at the Agriculture Building, 1205 Lincoln Drive in Carbondale, 62901.