Student Recruitment: Jags on Tour

Posted on May 17, 2023 by Alumni


Outreach program features music, mascots and cheerleaders on South recruiting trips and campus tours by high school groups. 

Highlights of a Baker High School tour at the University of South Alabama included engineering labs, the birth of a baby manikin in the Health Simulation Building and a race across the football field at Hancock Whitney Stadium.

Also fresh waffles in the student dining hall.

The Baker seniors enjoyed lunch, just like South students, choosing everything from soup and salad to pizza and pasta. When one student kept looking over at the wafflemaking station, his classmates shamed him into finally going over and making himself dessert.

“I feel like we’re getting VIP treatment,” said Nicholas Cubitt, who’s toured several Alabama universities. “At some colleges, you’re lucky to get a bottle of water.”

First-rate tours for high school groups are part of a renewed focus on student recruitment, with brand-new Jag buses picking up the students and delivering them to campus. They get to meet professors and, usually, President Jo Bonner, along with mascots and cheerleaders. By fall’s end, South had delivered students from more than a dozen Alabama high schools to campus. This spring will bring an expansion into Coastal Mississippi.

Three students holding up J sign for Jaguars on football field.The University also has taken the show on the road to deliver Jag spirit and enrollment information to high school
campuses farther away. In October, members of the Jaguar Marching Band joined University leadership and recruiters
for pep rallies at Clarke County high schools.

A month later, one of South’s luxury motorcoaches with a custom red-white-and-blue paint job pulled up to Baker, the University’s largest feeder school. The students loaded onto the bus, leaned back in their seats and watched a South hype video on overhead monitors. The Hornets began to find out what it would be like to become a Jaguar.

“I’m impressed,” said Kristie Matthews, a senior counselor at Baker. “Really impressed.”

After breakfast in the Student Center, where the seniors learned about enrollment and scholarship opportunities, the group headed to the Health Simulation Building. In one ward, students crowded around a high-tech simulated patient used for clinical training.

An instructor asked for help and Ramani Westerfield, a Baker senior, volunteered to help pull a baby manikin from the artificial womb of a synthetic mother. Students were buzzing. The patient pushed, the head crowned, and Westerfield caught the baby and held it up to her classmates.

As the tour prepared to move on, she remembered something important. 

“Wait,” Westerfield told her friends. “I need to take a picture with this baby I just delivered.”

A few minutes later, in Shelby Hall, the Baker students visited a wave simulator in the Coastal Hydraulics Laboratory. South is one of just 12 universities in the country with a coastal engineering program. The tour also stopped at the workspace where South students helped design and build a small satellite that was launched in July by the SpaceX rocket.

In the Shelby lobby, the seniors met President Bonner, who handed out souvenir buttons featuring SouthPaw, South’s mascot. He urged them to consider South for their university education. He hoped they were enjoying their tour.

“Who delivered the baby in the Sim Lab?” Bonner asked, smiling. “I just want you all to know that whether it’s healthcare, engineering or any other field, there’s something for everyone at South.”

Jaguars Tour Jackson

In October, instead of taking high school students to South, the University brought a little bit of South to them. Call it the Jaguar Road Show.

The tour made its first stop at the Jackson Academy gymnasium. The band played fight songs as cheerleaders tossed souvenir cups and T-shirts into a crowd of students. Bonner asked seniors to visit the South campus and consider going to college in Mobile.

After a 40-minute program, Headmaster Joe Jones thanked the South group for visiting the academy.

“This is the first time a university has made a presentation like this at our school,” Jones said. “No other school has done this. And we appreciate it.”

The South students and administrators jumped back on their bus and visited three other Clarke County high schools. In between music and cheers, they promoted everything from the Mitchell College of Business to the largest nursing program in the state to the new School of Marine and Environmental Sciences.

Students asked about admissions, financial aid and taking a tour. Teachers talked about their connections to South.

Tiffany Newsom, a counselor at Clarke Prep School, said her daughter was a Jaguar. She got a kick out of the South traveling show.

“We’ve had different colleges come here,” Newsom said, laughing, “but they weren’t as much fun.”

Baker Legacy on Campus

The campus tours are a South 101 course for prospective students – an introductory mix of campus spots, academic programs and school spirit. Over a breakfast of chicken biscuits, Amanda Owens, an admissions officer and recruiter, gave Baker students a brief overview before leading them in a chant of “Go Jags.” She showed them how to hold their thumb and index finger to form the letter J for Jaguars.

“Use your left hand,” she said. “Your left hand.” 

I know a lot of Baker graduates who are leaders at South,” she told them. “They’re involved in things. You see them on campus. Baker has a legacy at South.”

Ashleigh Taylor, a South tour guide who lives on campus, took over the second half of the campus tour. She showed the students around Camellia Hall, a residence hall that is home base for many entering first-year students. She emphasized building security, with a system of keys and swipe cards, and answered questions about choosing rooms and roommates.

Leading lots of tours has taught Taylor what engages high school students. She hits the highlights. She knows what they’ll be talking about the next day at school.

“Definitely the Rec Center pools and climbing wall,” she said. “And they also love getting to walk on the turf of the football stadium.”

Baker students on football field with cheerleaders and Southpaw and Ms. Pawla.

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