The question and answer team

The team of U of S employees who take calls from prospective students, their parents and their school counsellors talk to tens of thousands of people a year. It’s no wonder that sometimes the questions are a little strange.

"I had an elderly lady phone and she wanted to know what the measurement would be for two ounces of ground pepper," said Angela Ryde, a call centre assistant. "And I had to ask why she thought to call admissions and she said, ‘Well, I assumed that because you're at the university, you're well educated, and you should be able to find the answer.' So of course, we did."

Ryde is one of four call centre assistants with the Student and Enrolment Services Division enrolment services unit. In 2010, the unit had about 37,000 conversations with prospective students and others through phone calls, emails, online chats and in-person meetings.

"We handle everything from prospective student inquiries from students in high school wanting to know more about university to students who have applied for admission and want to know more about application," said assistant Erin Hyde. "We just walk them through the whole process until they become students here.

The team members deal with bad connections on international calls, cultural differences that can lead to misunderstandings, and callers who get angry when the assistants don't have the answers they want to hear. But they work together to get through the tough calls, and are rewarded by the happy calls.

"It's nice when you're helping out a student and maybe their parents, and you're able to give them the answers they want, calm their nerves, get them set up to go to university," said Hyde.

"Maybe even make them laugh," added Ryde.

The people with the enrolment services unit are the university's human face. They are trying to show people why the U of S is such a great place. The call centre assistants do so by helping prospective students in any way they can, while the recruitment officers go out into the world to make their pitch.

"Recruitment officers are on the road and travelling, from around the corner at our local high schools to other parts of the world," said Dan Seneker, manager of undergraduate recruitment with SESD.

Recruiters focus primarily on Western Canada with the emphasis on Saskatoon, but they travel much farther than that, he said. This year, one recruitment officer went to India for three weeks, and another to China for two months. They visit many American states, as well as countries in Latin America, including Ecuador, Columbia, and Panama. They also go to the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Vietnam and Malaysia. But it's not just a free ticket to travel.

"When [people] hear the word ‘travel', they think of their own personal travel    when they're on vacation," said Seneker. " You're going sometimes nonstop, and if you get a day off in a two-week trip, that's pretty good. You take that day and you either try and see what you can, or you just rest."

The recruitment process, which includes the innumerable questions asked at the call centre, is essential to the health of the university, Seneker said. It brings students to campus who might not have otherwise heard of the U of S, and a diverse student body helps the university both economically and socially by internationalizing the university.

"We are the promoters of the institution," said Seneker. "We're the ones who are hired to go out and make sure that people know about the U of S and the quality of the U of S, so that we are hopefully someday mentioned in the same breath as the Harvards and the Stanfords and the Oxfords of the world."


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