Rebuilding Admissions

photo by Eden Anyabwile

photo by Eden Anyabwile

The past several months have been a season of transition for the Office of Admissions.

Brad Voyles, the Dean of Students, has exercised responsibility over admissions for the past four months. Voyles explained that he has had two main goals: rebuilding the admissions team and rebuilding processes.

“I really saw it as my number one priority to help rebuild the staff and the leadership of admissions,” Voyles said.

In November of 2018, Voyles created a team focused on rebuilding involving people currently working in admissions, marketing, and institutional research, along with previous employees of Covenant’s admissions department. He explained that looking at data and hearing from a variety of experienced voices has helped to focus their priorities as they rebuild within the department. A couple of the crucial steps towards achieving this goal were the hiring of Claire Hirte (‘11) and Brad Tomas.

Hirte returned to Covenant College as the Associate Director of Admissions on December 3rd, 2018. She graduated from Covenant in 2011 and was employed as an Admissions Counselor (AC) from September 2013 to June 2017.

“We were really thrilled when she was open to the idea of coming back last fall,” President Derek Halvorson said. “For us having watched her work and knowing the reputation she had in the admissions office, with college counselors in schools, and with volunteers—just everyone spoke very highly of Claire: of her professionalism, of her love for Covenant, and her ability to communicate the distinctive value proposition that exists in a Covenant College education.”

During her past time in the admissions office, Hirte recruited students domestically and internationally, led AC team meetings giving tips and encouragement to her coworkers, and supervised the work-study students. These experiences in both recruiting and management helped equip her to take on the role of Associate Director.

“She has been wonderful in providing support, accountability, structure, training, and a voice and a listening ear for the Admissions Counselors” Voyles said. “She loves her staff and is a person of deep conviction and faith.”

Hirte left her job at Unum as a Service Specialist in the Ask Unum department to take this position. She spoke highly of her time at Unum and said they modeled examples of great leadership management that she hopes to bring with her back to Covenant.

“I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to go elsewhere and have a different experience, but I was so excited to come back to a place that I want to see succeed and that I want to see the people here well cared for,” Hirte said. “So when I saw there was an opportunity for me to come back and do that, it felt like answering a call.”

Hirte said that for the remainder of the year, the office plans to focus on doing the best they can to recruit fit students to the college with the applicants they have.

“We are expecting a smaller class, and that is not a result of the Admissions Counselors’ work, [but] of what’s been happening in admissions” Hirte said.

One of Hirte’s main goals is rebuilding a lot of current systems to ensure a stronger future for the admissions office.

“There’s a lot of work to do, but I have been very impressed by the Admissions Counselor team, by our support staff, by our visit staff, and all of the sustained energy that they carry into each day,” Hirte said. “They have passion for Covenant and for seeing it succeed. They have gone through a lot and still have passion that carries them through.”

Currently, there are six full-time ACs and two ACs with a quarter load of students. Tim Mahla and David Gambrell, who had both previously served as ACs in Covenant Admissions, returned part-time around the same time Hirte returned to help recruit students for the upcoming year. She said they both have treated their quarter load of students like rock stars, which has been a great asset to the office.

Hannah Tippens (‘18) and Anne Fuller (‘18) both joined the team as full-time ACs the first full week after Christmas. “That was my third or fourth week on the job, so it was very quick,” Hirte said. “It was a huge answer to prayer that the Lord provided two incredible candidates mid-year when we didn’t know who we would get.”

Hirte expects to hire at least one other AC position within the next few months, but the Admissions Office has not set a date to release the application yet. The other current ACs are Erik Vitolins (‘15), Zach Plating (‘16), Sarah Erickson (‘17), and Ian Webb (‘17).

“You can just see their care in their work,” Hirte said in regards to the AC team. “Their efforts are at an all-time high. They feel the pressures of needing to recruit a class, but I have just been so impressed and humbled by them constantly. Not only do they have a passion to keep going, but they are continuously bringing new ideas to the table on how we can do things better.”

Hirte hopes to continue growing the staff care and development side of her job. “My goals for the staff development side are to really care well for them in a way that helps to capitalize on their skills, their giftedness, and their passions,” Hirte said. This includes her vision to implement a professional development program for the ACs, which would involve establishing a trajectory of growth while they are employed at Covenant to help provide professional mentorship opportunities and for their individual personal goals to be realized.

Since the Admissions Office is committed to hiring Covenant graduates as the best recruiters for the college with personal experience, Hirte sees this as another opportunity to further grow and develop Covenant students.

On March 11th, Brad Tomas started his first day at Covenant as the new Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management. His role includes overseeing the Admissions and Financial Aid departments. Tomas reports directly to Voyles and has a seat on the cabinet, which will give him a voice in regards to the college’s directional matters.

“I am really excited about the team we have over there now,” Voyles said. “I am most excited about the impacts of having a stable, full team and the new initiatives we are hoping to build.”

Tomas comes to Covenant from his role as the Assistant Dean of Admissions at Samford University in Birmingham, AL, where he has worked in the admissions department for twelve years. Over the last seven years, Samford’s incoming class has grown by 25%.

“I believe he is the most experienced admissions person we have ever hired at the college, certainly with respect to undergrad admissions,” Halvorson said.

Tomas brings experience from serving as an AC and as a direct manager of other ACs. He also has done data analytics and predictive modeling for admissions along with coordinating marketing for admissions purposes. “He has a lot of experience both on the recruiting side and on the admissions operations and management side,” Halvorson added. “We are really excited about that.”

Halvorson and Hirte said that they were encouraged that the references of both the people working above him and those reporting directly below him spoke highly of his character and abilities.

Likewise Voyles said that he enjoyed hearing Tomas’ passion for his work during the interview process. “I was really encouraged to talk to his references to hear from those who both managed him and worked for him,” Voyles said. “This only encouraged me further that he would be a good teammate, manager, and would care well for his employees.”

Voyles continued that although Tomas will face a learning curve as he adjusts to Covenant, he will offer a fresh set of eyes on how Covenant is doing admissions from his experience at another successful academic institution. Tomas and his family were active members of a PCA church in Birmingham, so he is not entirely unfamiliar with Covenant’s distinctive commitments and culture.

Looking forward, Voyles is excited to see how the Lord faithfully grows the work being done in Admissions. “It is interesting to consider Admissions as sort of this agricultural enterprise, where it’s important that you plant seeds at a certain time and you nurture and you water, but you are ultimately trusting the Lord to bring the yield and growth in that,” Voyles said. “This is all a part of what we are doing right now, rebuilding our systems and structures to make sure we are planting seeds at the right time and that we are nurturing the growth as we rebuild.”