Spring 2018

Shockers in Motion

Bobby Gandu '02/06 heads up ever-expanding undergraduate recruiting efforts at Wichita State.


Recruitment efforts at Wichita State have certainly taken up new forms and messages through the years, and the pace of outreach seems ever faster, covering ever wider territories. But, at heart, recruiting students to the university atop Fairmount Hill is, well – as they say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing. And the constant here is WSU’s unmistakeable Shocker touch.

Bobby Gandu '02/06, director of Wichita State's Office of Undergraduate Admissions, at right, heads up the wide array of admissions activities. Among his 75-person staff are four full-time, out-of-town representatives, one of whom is Dana Bolar '87, above middle, whose home territory is Kansas City, Kan.

Bobby Gandu ’02/06, director of Wichita State’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, heads up the wide array of admissions activities. Among his 75-person staff are four full-time, out-of-town representatives, one of whom is Dana Bolar ’87, whose home territory is Kansas City, Kan.

When it comes to discovering the right college destination for a high school or transfer student, there is no substitute for being on campus. The sights, sounds and energy of a university like Wichita State are impossible to replicate – although Bobby Gandu’s @wheatweet Twitter account gives it a good run.

Gandu ’02/06, WSU’s undergraduate admissions director since 2007, earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing and understands the art of promotion. His social media is a Shocker information hub. Want to know what’s going on at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions inside the Marcus Welcome Center? Who received a big scholarship? What museum recently opened on campus? Where did WuShock crash a future Shocker’s high school graduation party? You’ll find it there.

Prospective undergraduates are inundated with recruitment materials from scores of academic institutions, and WSU – where Gandu oversees some 75 full-time, part-time and student employees in admissions – must cut through the clutter to recruit successfully. To spread the message about Wichita State’s strong traditional academic programs, unique majoring options, and applied learning experiences across disciplines, Gandu and his team use all they can from social media and colorful printed items at college fairs, to fast-paced YouTube videos and campus visits.

The Information Age has shifted into a higher gear since Gandu was looking at colleges as a senior at Topeka’s Highland Park High School. There was no WSU Innovation Campus, developing under the watch of President John Bardo. But Gandu still wants students to feel as welcome to the Shocker family as he did 20 years ago when he grudgingly took his father’s advice to attend a dinner WSU hosted in his hometown. “I know, to this day, the people who sat with me at that table and just spent a lot of time talking to me about Wichita State and what it had to offer,” Gandu says. “That personal touch carried forward when I came to campus. People knew who I was and I couldn’t believe they remembered my name.”

Now, Gandu leads a department that is on pace to help WSU set a freshman enrollment record for the third consecutive fall semester. The university has been the state’s top transfer destination of Kansas community college students for seven years in a row. Minority enrollment has climbed almost 5 percent over a five-year period. And Wichita State has expanded its admissions outreach along Interstate 35 from Kansas City to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“Absolutely a lot of things have changed, and it’s hyper-competitive now among the colleges and universities,” Gandu says. “But a lot of things have stayed the same in the sense that as a student, you can tell when someone is really taking an interest in you.”

Local Attractions

The Fall 2017 class of 1,436 freshman was the largest in the university’s history, up from 1,391 the previous year. Recruiters made progress locally with WSU promotions at high school basketball games. They set up information tables, held drawings for Shocker tickets, and distributed foam fingers with high school logos on one side and WSU on the other. The admissions office also established a team of diversity interns to assist in the recruitment of underrepresented students. The interns conducted “Shocker Sessions” at Wichita public schools to inform high school students about the college search process.

Wichita State saw a 10.9 percent increase in registered students from Wichita public schools between the 2016 and 2017 fall semesters.

Another statistic that yielded smiles across campus arrived this spring. For 

the third consecutive year, more graduates of Wichita East High School’s respected International Baccalaureate program (26) are choosing to attend WSU this fall than all other Kansas universities combined (13).

The university’s success as a transfer destination is aided by its proximity to community colleges. Gandu says Butler Community College in El Dorado sends approximately 400 graduates to WSU annually, and he is quick to credit Neal Hoelting, the admissions team’s community college coordinator who previously worked at two-year schools in Kansas. By offering competitive transfer scholarships and articulating equivalency proportions for transfer credits, WSU has connected in a big way. “If you’ve taken X class, we can tell you exactly how it’s going to come in at Wichita State,” he reports. “We put that all online so that a student doesn’t have to come to campus and sit down with an academic adviser to figure that out.”

Expanding the Reach

Dana Bolar ’87 landed her dream job in 2014 when Wichita State hired her as a regional admissions representative in the Kansas City metro area. An advertising and public relations graduate who was active in the WSUAA’s Student Alumni Association, Bolar spent a year on WSU’s admissions team right out of college. She recruited students for Avila University in Kansas City, Mo., before rejoining her alma mater. Bolar, who lives in Prairie Village, Kan., used that experience to shape her initial WSU recruiting strategy and made 120 high school visits in Kansas and Missouri the first year. “It was just the idea that if we can get the students down to visit, it’s such a friendly place and we make such a great impression with campus visits that they come back home saying, ‘We had no idea,’” she says.

Three regional representatives joined Bolar in the past year to share WSU’s message to prospective students along the I-35 corridor from Kansas City to Dallas-Fort Worth. In 2015, WSU began offering in-state tuition and other tuition incentives for eligible students in neighboring states. Jill Duncan, a former associate director of admissions at Missouri State, now serves as WSU’s representative in Missouri and works out of Raytown, Mo. Jerome Bennett assists students in Oklahoma and Chandra Cralle is WSU’s representative in Texas.

According to WSU’s Strategic Enrollment Management data, the fall census enrollment of Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas students has risen from 229 students in 2012 to 588 in 2017. As of late April, the number of admitted students from those three states for the upcoming fall semester was up 55 percent from the same point in 2017. While recruiting in new areas puts Wichita State in competition with different universities, it also has its advantages. “It’s given us a blank canvas to work with,” Gandu says. “We’re offering students and families a good price, and they’re finding there are benefits to going to a bigger city for your college experience.”

Bolar finds numerous students eager to learn about WSU’s fine arts, nursing, sport management and engineering programs. About 14 percent of WSU’s freshman class came from her northeast Kansas recruiting area. The university’s visibility has also increased during her 20 years living in Kansas City. “All around town, you see Shocker license plates, people in sweatshirts or T-shirts, and stickers on cars,” she says. “It’s really exciting for me to see.”

This spring, WSU awarded three $1,000 scholarships to Kansas City-area high school students and a $500 scholarship to a transfer from Johnson County Community College. Alumni from the area were able to join Bolar at some of the presentations. “I love that partnership and support from generation to generation,” she says. Bolar gives her contact information to future Shockers in case they need assistance with available resources once they arrive on campus. “I like them to know they can call me for help with anything,” she says. “I’m genuinely interested in them.”

Sharing Success

Gandu’s dining partners who so positively influenced his college decision were members of WSU’s Student Ambassador Society. He joined the organization after arriving on campus, starting his path in student recruitment. He worked in admissions for three years as a student before the WSU Alumni Association hired him as chapters and societies director after graduation. He returned to admissions in 2004 as assistant director.

SAS still plays a prominent role in WSU’s recruiting. Ambassadors assisted with 129 events and interacted with more than 8,000 prospective students in the year that led to the record-setting freshman class. Student callers on the admissions outreach team and campus tour guides are also key. “They almost matter more now because people know there are all these things you can use to make things appear personal,” Gandu says. “But remembering someone’s name takes real effort and energy.”

Gandu’s admissions team fills numerous specialized roles. A digital media strategist meets the needs for unique photo and video content, social media and online marketing campaigns. Other staff members cover areas such as diversity recruitment, campus visits and recruitment events.

“Enrollment is No. 1,” Gandu emphasizes. “That’s why we’re all here.” He also measures success in the feedback he gets from campus visitors and in the career advancement of former staff now in wider university roles – that of registrar, Diversity and Inclusion director and OneStop Student Services director, to mention three.

Gandu’s own professional success can squarely be laid on his finding the right college. “I was looking for somewhere,” he recalls, “where I could be a big fish in a medium-sized pond.” Thanks to the SAS students who steered him in the right direction, he found it. His drive now is to help today’s prospective students find their ways – and their futures – at Wichita State. “It’s done with great partners all over campus, all across Shocker Nation,” he says. “Recruiting successes are shared by everyone.”


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