Bringing the best and brightest to our door
by Diana Grier Ayton
Anne Roussell is a woman facing a pretty big challenge. She's charged with developing a new model for recruiting at McGill. She has a limited time in which to design the model and show results. Not only that, but she can't give up her day job.
Roussell, who is currently director of Development and Alumni Relations Services, will retain that title while she oversees creation of the Recruiting and Liaison Office.
"Recruiting is a whole process of building a relationship," says Roussell. "It doesn't simply consist of a visit to a high school or CEGEP. You go from the time you first meet potential students and parents and you get them excited about the institution. Then you bring them to the point where they want to apply. Once they're accepted, you make sure that if they're francophone students, they get a letter of acceptance in French, if they're anglophone, they get it in English.
"A couple of weeks later, they get a letter of welcome from the dean of their faculty. Then you follow it up later on with perhaps a letter from the president of the Students' Society, telling them about some of the great activities going on and then you follow that with a nice phone call from either a current McGill student or an alumnus."
Roussell says the process continues even after a student arrives on campus. "Once students are here, you survey them to find out if there are problems, and if there are, you try to solve them. You can't make everybody happy, but you let students know you care. A satisfied student is the best recruiting tool possible."
|Anne Roussell, the director of McGill's new Recruiting and Liaison Office|
[ PHOTO: OWEN EGAN ]
That continuing follow up and evaluation is critical to success in attracting students, says Roussell. "With the resources available now in admissions, recruiting can't be done year round. On January 1, the files roll in and staff have to work on those until the middle of June. That means there are six months out of the year when you can't be doing follow up."
The new unit will be staffed in part by experienced people seconded from the Admissions and Registrar's Office and will incorporate the Welcome Centre. Roussell, as director of the eight-member office, will report to a steering committee composed of the principal, the vice-principal (academic) and the vice-principal (development and alumni relations). In addition, an advisory committee will be set up, including student representatives and all deans.
"We have a mandate for three years," says Roussell. "That's really a very short time, and so I see the advisory committee as being key in ensuring that we make the best use of our resources. Once we map out our strategic plan, we will share information with the whole University.
"We'll use tools like a Web site to do that. Faculty can look at a list and see if they're going to be in the area of a school fair, for example. If the fair focuses on language training, it might make sense for someone from Continuing Education to be there."
A veteran of 23 years at McGill, Roussell's recent experience includes six years as administrative assistant in the Department of Psychology, followed by two-and-a-half years as assistant director of admissions and recruitment in the Admissions Office. She became director of development and alumni relations services in March 1995.
She has served on a number of McGill committees, including Management Forum, McGill 175 and Senate--and can even offer a student's perspective, having begun a bachelor's degree in political science in 1988.
Roussell says there are some immediate priorities for her new team. "Between now and summer we will focus on yield recruiting. That means that once a student has been accepted, we work to persuade him or her to actually come to McGill. Our statistics show that about 55% of students who are accepted take up the offer. Of course, that means that almost half do not. We need to do surveys to find out what the reasons are."
From her round of meetings with deans this month, she has learned that they would like some support in recruiting graduate students. "At the moment, graduate recruiting happens only at the departmental level. Every dean that I've talked to thinks that's wrong. We need to market our graduate programs better than we have in the past."
She also hopes to have a larger, refurbished Welcome Centre back in Burnside Hall and open for business on Saturdays. "The Welcome Centre will become more proactive. In addition to giving campus tours and providing information, we'll be inviting groups of high school and CEGEP students to come for special visits and receptions."
Roussell has visited a number of universities in Canada and the U.S. to gather information on recruiting strategies. Among other things, she has discovered that graduates can play a bigger part. "The institutions that are successful in recruiting are those where they are also involving alumni. They might host a get together in their town or call and offer to answer questions."
Dean of Students Rosalie Jukier, who was the associate dean of admissions in the Faculty of Law for four years, agrees that Roussell is on the right track. "My own experience is that students very much appreciate the personalized touch, from either a currently enrolled student or a professor or an alumnus. It has a tremendous effect on their perception of the University and in their decision of where to go. A single phone call can make a big difference."
While Roussell says that reaction to the idea of an office for recruiting has been mostly positive, there are some on campus who are unhappy with the idea.
Former Dean of Admissions Abbott Conway has circulated a 12-page document that lists a number of objections. One is that Roussell's ties to development and alumni relations might bring pressure from donors to dilute McGill's high admission standards.
There's no need for concern, says Roussell. "I'm director of services for development--the infrastructure for development and alumni relations, providing databases, processing gifts, acknowledging--gifts things like that. I do a very small amount of fundraising, only because I need to know what it's all about. But donors who give money for scholarships want admission standards to be maintained. They want their scholarships to go to the very top students."
She adds that her office won't be involved in any way in decisions about admissions.
Conway also objects to the removal of the recruiting and liaison function from admissions. Roussell has some sympathy for that point of view, but says, "There is so much going on in different areas where people are duplicating their efforts. I think a recruiting and liaison office can centralize those activities so that we stop duplication and ensure that we are covering other areas that are falling through the cracks. We need to build a program that is well consolidated. Hopefully, at the end of three years we can fold it back into admissions."
Jukier, who worked with Roussell when both were involved in admissions, says she's a good choice for the job. "She's dynamic and she brings a bilingual character to recruitment which I think we need here at McGill. She understands that you need to be proactive, not just sit back passively. There are lots of good universities, so we have to convince students to come to McGill and not the others."
Is Roussell worried about keeping up with her new duties while she is also director of alumni services? "This is the kind of challenge I thrive on. I am very organized and I delegate a lot. I think the secret of being a successful manager is having talented people around you who want your job, who are ambitious. You give them guidelines, tell them what the objectives are, then let them get on with it."
She's equally positive that the new Recruiting and Liaison Office will achieve its goal. "I think that three years from now McGill will be the model of the future and people will be looking to us. Even though we are undergoing budget cuts, we recognize as an institution the need to invest in our future. That should be a sign to our prospective students and their parents, our donors and our alumni that McGill is still very strong."
Anne Roussell invites ideas or comments from colleagues at firstname.lastname@example.org.