Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 1, Page 6 Fall 1991 VAST network reaches students Ryan Williams had narrowed his college choices to Stanford, Wake Forest and Emory universities, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of Delaware. The Charlotte, N.C., resident was accepted at each school. However, Delaware became a leading contender shortly after Williams, formerly of Springfield, Pa., met Gary Swindell, Delaware '76, at a college fair in Charlotte. Swindell is not an admissions counselor. He's a member of the University's nationwide Volunteer Admissions Support Team (VAST). Says Williams, "I got back with him at a later date, and we really got into a discussion about going to Delaware." Swindell recalls, "His interest in the University was something that was very invigorating to me." After Williams applied for admission to the University and was accepted, he received a phone call from another VAST volunteer, a student. "I was really impressed with her answers, what she had to say," recalls the psychology major who played lacrosse, ran track and was in service clubs at East Mecklenburg High School. "That really made the decision concrete. I was thinking, 'I could go to Delaware, I think I might like it there.'" Of the schools that accepted Williams, only Delaware followed up with personal contacts. The VAST volunteers' caring attitude, accessibility and friendliness had made an important impression on this member of the Class of 1993. At Delaware, Williams is a member of the Black Student Union, Student Program Association and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He holds a University Merit Scholarship. Created in 1986, VAST's goals are to enhance student recruitment by personalizing the admissions process and to help students and parents understand the advantages of a Delaware education, according to Stirling Miller, assistant dean of admissions and VAST coordinator. How big an impact is VAST making at a time when there are fewer and fewer 18-year-olds? It's difficult to measure with numbers, Miller says, but he points to anecdotal evidence that VAST is helping. "Students comment on how impressed they were that someone took the time to call them. They believe the calls were an indication of the enthusiasm that these people have for the University," he says. In May, the University announced that 3,389 students accepted admission for this fall, exceeding the target number of 3,000. Miller's job is to recruit and train VAST volunteers and manage contact projects, which include telephoning, letter-writing and receptions. Swindell, a Charlotte attorney, became involved with VAST in 1987. He says students at college nights first ask about the University's location. "One of the things we try to point out in selling the school is that we're pretty close to both the District of Columbia and New York City. You have easy access to both." Six students, including Williams, have come to the University from Charlotte since 1989. Their decision to choose Delaware is a tribute to Swindell, who concedes that Delaware can be a tough sell because of the number of fine schools in North Carolina. "I'm very pleased with the kids we've contacted through VAST, a program that started up so small. I think we've done okay." Mary Lou Lobaccaro Flynn, Delaware '64, and Paula Johnson Kotowski, Delaware '73, are VAST volunteers in the mid-Atlantic region. Like Swindell and other program members, they were active undergraduates who have maintained their involvement with the University. Flynn, a Wilmington resident, and Kotowski of Warminster, Pa., near Philadelphia, telephone and write applicants and hold home receptions. They served together on the 1990-91 VAST Advisory Committee. Flynn, a VAST member since its creation, has seen the volunteer ranks grow from 84 to 515. VAST draws a majority of its members from the alumni ranks, but students, parents and faculty members also are represented. Flynn likes the flexibility of the program, which allows members to get as involved as their schedules permit. "Our volunteers have a choice of activities. From year to year, they can change, and I think that's a big drawing point," she says. VAST volunteers are busiest between January and April, when accepted students have narrowed their choices to Delaware and one or two other schools. Parents, in particular, like VAST's personal touch, Kotowski says. She views herself as a liaison between the University and students and their parents. She points out the advantages of the University's size and setting: "Delaware certainly offers all the programs and activities of a large university, but it has been able to maintain that smaller, more intimate, college idea." A middle school guidance counselor, Kotowski tells applicants about the variety of activities at Delaware. "It seems to me that there is some sort of extra-curricular activity for everyone," she says. It's not unusual for students recruited through VAST to become program volunteers themselves. Patricia O'Neill, Delaware '92, was introduced to VAST at a reception her senior year at Milford (Del.) High School. "VAST is great because there are so many ways to reach students," says O'Neill, who has undertaken telephone projects and has spoken at a reception. "Parents really like it, and out-of-state students have a lot of questions." VAST coordinator Miller says he enjoys working with student volunteers and helping them develop their human relations skills. Often they remain involved after graduation. "I frequently follow them from the University into their professional lives, which is very gratifying." The alumni members have a common trait, according to Miller, formerly assistant director of admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. "What's gratifying to me is that the people are so enthusiastic and positive about their experiences here," he says. "It's really great to work in admissions at a place where your alumni are sincerely promoting the University." --Bill Clark, Delaware '82 and Saskia Brandt, Delaware '92 Persons interested in becoming VAST volunteers are encouraged to call Miller at (302) 451-6394.