Campus Conversations

Ramiro Flores took the helm in admission last spring when Teresa (Krug) Hudkins ’69 retired after more than three decades. A veteran of WU admission himself, Flores is charged with carrying on a hefty tradition: Treating the admission process as a way, above all else, to serve the best interests of students.

Willamette, maybe even more than other universities, has had a succession of admission directors who’ve left great legacies — Buzz Yocom, Frank Meyer, Jim Sumner, Teresa Hudkins. How does that history impact your work today?

It impacts our work all the time. Whenever I’m at a college fair, at least one person will come up to me and say “I’m a WU grad, and Teresa admitted me.” Or “Jim admitted me.” These folks have a personal connection even today. Maybe now they’re bringing a granddaughter to the fair, but they’ll inevitably bring up their own experience.

They associate their acceptance with a specific person, in other words — not the institution.

Right. We hear things like “Buzz Yocom took a chance on me,” “Teresa made me feel so welcome,” and “Jim wrote me a personal note afterward.” These things are strangely consistent, but if you know these people they do make sense.

Your team just welcomed a new multicultural-recruitment manager, which is a role you had until you took over as director. How does that inform the approach going forward?

Thirty-six percent of the last year’s incoming class identify as students of color. If you look at the statistics and trends in the admission world, the demographics are changing. Bringing on Veronica Ortiz allows us to be much more intentional about evolving alongside these changes. This is important because it will shape what WU looks like 20–30 years down the road.

So today’s admission cycle looks different for many students than what most alumni would have experienced.

Right. For example: When we tell students that WU is a liberal arts college, lots of first-generation students won’t know what that means. It’s about the type of education that takes place here, and the value Willamette offers. And college fairs aren’t always where we make initial contact with these students. Community organizations and local mentors play a huge role. So from a programmatic standpoint, connecting with community leaders gives us access to high-achievers who otherwise might not connect with Willamette. We develop relationships with the people who know they can send their top students to a place of support.

The partnership with Chemawa Indian School has been a great example. A big part of recruitment happens outside of the admission office. And now, current high school students are seeing the products of the WU experience in their school daily when we send volunteers. That’s not sales; it’s an authentic connection.

What do you love about the job? What keeps you up at night?

I still love to see the process come full circle: You work with a junior in high school, they apply, they enroll, and you get to watch them develop maturity, change and graduate to become productive alumni. I’ve been here long enough to see that cycle happen many times. I watch my former recruits represent WU out there in the world, and that’s what success means to me.

On the other side of that coin, what frustrates me is the affordability question. I worry a lot when we’ve worked hard with certain students, they’re a great match for Willamette and they love this place, but in the end the reality is that the money gets in the way. They simply can’t come to Willamette. Then they choose Plan B, even though everybody at the table knows they should be here.

What’s the pitch these days? What messages or themes do families really respond to?

At the end of the day it’s always two things: academic environment and what’s distinctive about Willamette. Academics are always number one. That’s a question about our programs and how they’ll prepare students for a successful future.

Then we talk about what makes us different among the hundreds of other liberal arts colleges out there. We get into conversations about how the State Capitol is right across the street, about having our own forest and farm, about how we’ve got a Japanese sister university attached to us and how we send 60 percent of our students abroad.

It’s tough because it’s not enough to say we’re a small university with great student/faculty interaction, even though that’s one of the greatest things here. Everybody says that in admissions.

What about legacies? We know that a fair number of WU alumni send family members here.

Not as many as you might think. About 10 percent of the incoming students have an alumni tie, and that can be a parent, a sibling, etc. And there are schools that have three times that rate. We’re still deciding what to make of these numbers. It could mean that we have an opportunity for better outreach — letting people know that legacy students are great to have around. Those applicants make us happy.

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Ramino Flores
Director of Admission