Gathering with a Purpose - Alums prove pivotal in hands-on recruiting

David Bowker and Jake Denhart
The hosts wore Purdue shirts, decorated their home in old gold and black, and served Arni’s pizza and Purdue cupcakes to 38 guests. Televisions were tuned to the Purdue vs. Northwestern basketball game on Jan. 28, 2012.

This party, at the home of Mark Ringenberg (CE ’80) and Susie Ringenberg (Ag ’81) in Georgetown, Ind., had a purpose beyond watching basketball. The guests of honor were 14 high school seniors admitted to Purdue’s College of Engineering. The Ringenbergs and other alums hoped to encourage them to accept those offers.

Home parties are just one way that Purdue’s Office of Future Engineers (OFE) collaborates with alums to educate and inspire high school students to study engineering. The OFE also makes presentations to guidance counselors and school groups, and co-hosts several admitted-student receptions throughout the country. On campus, the OFE meets with thousands of visitors every year to help students decide if Purdue Engineering is the right fit for them.

Finding that fit was on the minds of guests. “The kids had a lot of questions, and the parents did, too — different questions, different concerns,” says Mark Ringenberg.

“We were selling Purdue first, then the College of Engineering.”

Other attendees included parents of admitted students, current students, OFE staff and special guests such as Leah Jamieson, The John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering/Ransburg Distinguished Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering; Heddy Kurz, widow of engineering alumnus Herman Kurz and a generous Purdue supporter; and “Flat Linda” — a cardboard cutout of Linda Ringenberg Murphy (CE ’82), the host’s sister, who was on deployment in Afghanistan.

Two Purdue wins were tallied that day — for both the game and the number of students who accepted. The Boilermakers beat the Wildcats by two points, and nine of the 14 admitted students decided Purdue Engineering was the right fit.

Alumnus Bob Parrin (ME ’72) and his wife, Kitty Parrin, scored wins at their party in Indianapolis, too. Fifteen of 17 admitted students who attended enrolled. 

“The whole idea in hosting these seniors is to inform them about the Purdue experience and the value of a Purdue engineering degree,” Bob Parrin says. “I take particular interest in students who are on the fence. I write them a personal note, thank them for coming and give them a personal contact for information if they have questions.”

David Bowker, director of the OFE, is grateful for alums who offer their time, hospitality and boundless enthusiasm for Purdue Engineering.

“One of our challenges is to personalize the recruitment experience. The parties engage our energetic, gung-ho alums in doing this.”

Amy Glenn, associate director of the OFE, says the parties allow prospective students to spend time finding out about the things that matter most to them.

“The parties provide a relaxed atmosphere where students can meet other admitted students, develop relationships and create bonds before arriving on campus,” she says. “Students also learn about the doors of opportunity Purdue degrees open.”

An added benefit is networking. That was especially true at Dave Schaller’s (BSECE ’82) party in Fort Wayne in 2010 — the first one. “Some of the adults who attended had significant business interactions,” he says. “And two students considering Purdue agreed that night to be roommates.”

Promoting Purdue and engineering is easy, these alums agree.

“Look at the records, the research, the grants, all Purdue has to offer,” Ringenberg says. “I know as an employer, if it’s a Purdue degree, the student will have the problem-solving skills needed.”

“These are our first-round draft choices for engineering at Purdue,” Schaller says, acknowledging that the parties are time well spent.

“Getting together in someone’s home makes it more personal,” Ringenberg says. “It’s a way to take the pressure off the kids — and we’re seeing success.”