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Washington State University
CAS Connect January 2016

In Motion: Arlene Parkay helps students find their way

Arlene Parkay
Arlene Parkay with a small sampling of her magnetic mementos.

As the college’s recruitment and retention specialist, Arlene Parkay helps students embark on the path to finding their passions and fulfilling their dreams. From explaining study options to prospective students, to helping freshmen navigate their new University environment, to sharing in graduates’ joy at commencement, she connects with students throughout their college careers.

As the college’s liaison with WSU Enrollment Management, Parkay participates in dozens of recruitment and orientation events throughout the year, providing information and opportunities for students to engage with all 19 academic units in the arts and sciences.

Now in her 19th year at WSU, she blends experience, professionalism, and a special magnetism to make a difference for students and faculty every day.

What’s your role in recruiting new students?

I help coordinate our college’s participation in campus visitation and recruitment events, such as academic fairs, Future Cougar Day, Preview for Juniors, Destination, Fall Preview, and Future Cougars of Color. I work with all CAS departments

Parkay speaks to high school students about renowned social science major and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at WSU’s 2015 Future Cougar Day.
Parkay speaks to high school students about renowned social science major and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at WSU’s 2015 Future Cougar Day.

and schools to develop informational materials, set up displays, deliver presentations, and showcase the many opportunities our college offers.

I also help bring faculty and student representatives together with prospective students and their parents. Recruitment is really about connecting with and educating students about their various options and the array of possibilities they have for growing and becoming lifelong learners and future professionals.

What’s your best advice for incoming freshmen?

I encourage students to keep an open mind and to use their first two years as a time to explore options while still pursuing their goals. Like finding the perfect pair of jeans, the best way to pick a major is to try different classes and see what fits.

My big message is to own your education. Make the most of your opportunities to connect with faculty and other students, participate in clubs, study abroad, intern—take it all in—and come away with not only a diploma but also the know-how to use what you learn in class in the real world.

New students come to WSU with all kinds of different expectations about what college will be like. Some are just plain hungry to learn. Others seem a little disengaged, and still others are kind of scared. When I can connect a student with a major or a professor that gets them really excited about their future, it’s like a light turns on in their head and they can suddenly imagine what they could be doing five or 10 years down the road. It’s always a thrill to help make that happen.

What are some of your proven approaches to student retention?

I work closely with the CAS Student Ambassadors who play a key role in both recruitment and retention. These amazing students speak about the WSU college experience in ways that high school students understand and underclassmen can relate to. They also help identify the needs of their peers and bring valuable insights to programs designed to meet student needs.

The Career Fair Coaching event and Interdisciplinary Innovation Challenge are our two biggest retention programs developed, sponsored, and run by the student ambassadors. It’s been rewarding to help establish the ambassadors program and to watch the students take leadership roles in creating new opportunities for others.

I also coordinate the college’s Outstanding Senior program, which honors the top graduating senior in each degree program. It’s a chance for our very best students to really shine in front of the college dean, faculty, and staff, along with their friends and family. And it helps create lasting ties with our alumni. It’s a joy each spring to see how far students have progressed during their time at WSU.

Working with students in groups or individually is the best part of my job. I give a lot of group presentations, but I’m always available to answer students’ questions. In fact, my personal cell phone number is right there on my business card.

Parkay points a soon-to-be College of Arts and Sciences graduate in the right direction during WSU’s 2015 commencement ceremony.
Parkay points students in the right direction all the way up to commencement time.

What question do students ask most frequently?

“What job can I get with that degree?”

I meet with a lot of students who initially shy away from certain majors because they don’t immediately see a clear path to a specific job. An important focus of recruitment and retention is helping students find where they belong. College is a place for students to develop themselves as professionals and lifelong learners no matter what degree they choose.

Someone said you might be a fan of Cougar athletics.

I’m a diehard Cougar fan! I go to as many games as possible—football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, baseball…. I’m also a certified track and field official and I work meets at WSU and the University of Idaho.

One of the most memorable games for me is the 2012 Apple Cup: despite a dismal season, the Cougars came from behind to beat the Huskies in a real nail-biter finish on a cold, blustery day. My daughter Cat, who is a 2004 WSU alumna, shivered with me through the whole game, and then we celebrated with the entire WSU community.

The reason I like athletics is that I appreciate the role of sports in developing personal values and teamwork, taking on challenges, sharing in both victory and defeat, working hard, having fun, and celebrating in community spirit. The same thing happens in the classroom. How wonderful it is to watch our students commit, struggle, grow, and succeed through hard work and dedication.

What’s one of your not-so-secret delights?

So many things come to mind, but an obvious one is my magnet collection. My office is covered with little magnetic keepsakes from all over the world, and I have a lot more at home. I got most of them during personal and professional travels, but several were given to me by friends and students. They remind me of places I’ve been, people I know and love, and experiences we’ve shared.

Oh, and my wonderful dog, Pepper—she’s definitely a not-so-secret delight.