Costen Solidifies Prospective Student Connections to Grow SHRM

Posted: Saturday, January 30th 2016 at 11:15 AM

By Kelly Johnston, student writer

Dr. Wanda Costen, executive director of the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (SHRM) at Northern Arizona University, has been focusing her recruiting efforts on high school populations in the Valley and neighboring reservations. It is her hope that exposing these students to NAU, the “best kept secret,” will help them find their perfect school and grow enrollment numbers at SHRM in the process. When it comes to telling others about the exciting and innovative things going on at SHRM, it isn’t hard to find things to brag about.

SHRM is in a unique position in the world of hospitality institutions. With approximately 900 students enrolled, class sizes are smaller by far than those of top-tier institutions like Cornell and University of Central Florida, whose hospitality programs enroll as many as 3,000 students a year. At the same time, SHRM consistently ranks in the top 12 nationally alongside those same top-tier schools.

The small size of SHRM also makes it attractive to prospective students.

“We are unique to have this stand-alone school so we can provide courses like accounting and finance with a hotel/restaurant emphasis in-house,” Costen said.

It’s these attractive features that she hopes will help secure SHRM’s brand. With Grand Canyon University (GCU) to the south heavily promoting its hospitality program in Glendale, Costen believes it is essential for NAU to do the same so that prospective students understand they have a choice.

Costen hopes her outreach will also allow SHRM to do its part in achieving one of NAU’s biggest goals, that of serving the Native American population.

“NAU strives to be the number one academic institution for Native Americans,” she said. “With our campus being so close to the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation, it makes sense to reach out to those populations and let them know we are an institution where they can get their academic credentials, and they can use that knowledge to better their communities.

Costen also sees the outreach as an opportunity for NAU to continue its tradition of serving first-generation students.

“Forty percent of NAU’s population are first-generation students; I am, our Dean is, and our President is. There’s a reason we attract the leadership that we do. In addition, first generation students are often ethnic minorities,” Costen said.

It was this realization that led to the creation of a three-part strategy of recruitment: her visitation to tribal high schools; engagement of the students with NAU on-campus visits; and encouragement of the students to spread the good news about SHRM to their peers.

On October 23, 2015, Costen made her first trip to Apollo High School in Glendale where the culinary instructor is an NAU alumna. Costen spent the day meeting and conversing with students, counselors, and the principal.

Since Costen often finds that a trip to visit NAU lets the campus speak for itself, she extended the invitation at the end of her visit. She asked the teachers to provide her with a list of students who were interested in coming to visit the campus. Thirty-five students and five teachers signed up.

The on-campus visit on Friday, December 4, included an admissions presentation, a tour of SHRM, a tour of the NAU campus, a meal in the Student Union, and a visit to the NAU bookstore. During the day, Costen discovered that since her visit to Apollo, three of the students on the trip had already been accepted to NAU, and by the end of their day touring, many more were planning to apply.

“When we get students on campus and inside this building, they tend to want to come here,” she said.

With our campus being so close to the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation, it makes sense to reach out to those populations and let them know we are an institution where they can get their academic credentials, and they can use that knowledge to better their communities.
–Dr. Wanda Costen

It’s this personal connection and accessibility that Costen hopes students will take away from the NAU campus and share with their peers.

Recently, she made a visit to Hopi High School, extending the same offer of a tour to interested students, and making connections along the way.

Looking internally, Costen’s hopes for SHRM graduates are just as high.

“My dream is that all of the top companies in lodging, food service, catering, and events would be coming to NAU to hire our students because we have the best talent,” Costen says.

Her dedication to the advancement of SHRM and its students in the hotel and restaurant management field continues to drive Costen to connect with motivated students in Northern Arizona, the Valley, and beyond. Her success in recruiting efforts can be attributed to her passion for education and to her field, which she shares with those she meets both in and outside the NAU community every day.


This story as covered in NAU News on February 25, 2016, "NAU is not a secret for a growing number of high school students" HERE



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