CARBONDALE — “This is a small room, but the equipment we have here is the best in the region,” Professor Jiyong Lee told a group of five high school boys, as he led them past a massive grinding wheel in Pulliam Hall’s glassworks studios. “We’re one of the only schools in the country where you can access some of these tools.”
Lee’s tour was one of 36 activities at the first-ever SIU Day, a campus-wide open house designed to convince local high schoolers to pick SIU Carbondale, in the face of declining enrollment and the flight of Illinois students to out-of-state universities.
The event was tailored to excite and impress, with free t-shirts, SIUC-branded drawstring bags and other merchandise.
A little after 9 a.m., as about 600 students packed into a Student Center ballroom, the Marching Salukis burst through the hall’s back doors, in full concert regalia, playing the 'Alma Mater.'
Up on the stage, administrators and faculty focused on the breadth of possibilities on campus.
“If you come to SIU, every single one of you can do anything you want,” Chancellor Carlo Montemagno said.
After the fanfare, students headed off to discover the department or program of their choice.
Haley McKibben and Trinity Roberts, from Vienna High School, chose to check out the Glove Factory: SIU’s multi-purpose art building that hosts painting, sculpture and printmaking classes, as well as woodworking and welding shops.
“I went to Murray [State University, in Kentucky] like a year ago for a visit, and they really didn’t show us anything or have us do programs,” Roberts said. “It didn’t make me want to go there because I didn’t know what they had to offer.”
McKibben, who plans to study painting, hoped the visit would be an opportunity to see what college-level work looks like.
“I think of art as, ‘You’re always learning and you get to learn from other people,’” McKibben said. “So I want to see other students’ talents.”
For metalsmithing professor Sun Kim, SIU Day was a better approach to courting prospective art students, like Roberts and McKibben.
“As faculty, if we have many small events it’s overwhelming, so when we have fewer big events like this, we can put our best foot forward,” she said.
Her department created custom key chains for every student, and brought visitors into an entry-level metal etching class.
Savveon Ayers, from Murphysboro High School, was impressed.
“I’ve been to a lot of colleges, but we never had a tour like this,” Ayers said. “We get to see the real college life. I love it.”
The day was not without its challenges, including a last-second change of lunch venue, which required staff to move a 600-person hamburger and hot dog meal across campus in 15 minutes.
“The transitions between activities could be smoother,” when SIU Day is repeated in the spring semester, said Meera Komarraju, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. But overall, she felt the day was a success.
“Everyone joined hands and made it happen. With no hesitation, people rolled up their sleeves and got to work,” Komarraju said.
Of 53 schools contacted, 22 came, Komarraju said. This spring, she plans for more.
About 35 students opted to submit applications on site on Wednesday, with all fees waived.
SIU Day attendees who did not apply on site may do so for free until next Wednesday, Sept. 26, with the login code “SIUDay18”.
That won’t be an issue for the Carbondale Community High School students in attendance. Every one of them applied to SIUC during an SIU application drive at CCHS on September 10.
“That was a big step,” said CCHS School Counselor Erinn Murphy. “SIU made sure every student had their decision before today’s visit.
“Walking the halls, thinking, ‘This is where I could be’ — that’s invaluable for them,” Murphy said.