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Q&A: Ali Burkum – Admissions


By Linda LaFrombois on Monday, September 23, 2019

Before students step on campus as freshmen, most have experienced the warm welcome, energy, and excitement of the UNW community through Football Frenzy, Preview Days, Hoops Hysteria, and other admissions events. Here we talk with Ali Burkum ’99, Assistant Director of Admissions, about her love for students and her passion for creating events that extend Christ-centered hospitality to prospective students and their families.

What do you do at University of Northwestern?

I manage our student ambassadors (there are 26 of them). I plan, coordinate, and manage the admissions events we host on campus. And I work personally with our partner schools to craft students visits that meet the specific goals of their administration.

Maggie Benham, Visit Coordinator, is also on our team. She coordinates all of the individual student/family tours and visits to campus. And we partner with the Student Services team during Orientation Week by serving at the check-in tables. It’s so fun to see students that we’ve connected with during the admissions process arrive on campus as UNW students.

I love planning events! I love hospitality and customer service—seeing prospective students and parents on campus, and seeing them pleased and taken care of.—Ali Burkum, Assistant Director of Admissions
Maggie Benham
Three Football Frenzy participants are randomly chosen to receive a $1,000 scholarship to UNW—and the opportunity to participate in a field goal contest for a chance to increase their scholarship prize to $3,000, $5,000, or $10,000!
Ali Burkum

You’re a UNW alum. Did you hope to work at Northwestern when you were a student here?

I graduated from Northwestern in 1999 and never imagined I’d work here. 

My husband and I got married the Saturday after graduation and moved to Nashville (he’s a musician). I learned about this job when we were living in Tennessee with our three kids. I was offered the position while he was on tour in Australia. We talked and agreed that I should take it. I’ve been working here six years now. I’ve been in Admissions the whole time.

What are some of the events your team hosts?

Football Frenzy kicks off our admission event schedule each fall. It’s one of two events we do each year in partnership with athletics—and where we give away scholarships! We also host:

  • Fall Preview Days
  • Hoops Hysteria
  • PSEO on Purpose
  • Icebreaker
  • Major Discovery
  • Spring Preview Days
"Working with our student ambassadors is what gets me up in the morning. The opportunity to work with college students is amazing."

What do you like most about your role?

I love planning events! I love hospitality and customer service—seeing prospective students and parents on campus, and seeing them pleased and taken care of. But working with our student ambassadors is what gets me up in the morning.

The opportunity to work with college students—to walk alongside them, develop them professionally, and see them grow as humans—is amazing. I was a psychology major at Northwestern; I’ve always been interested in people and what makes them who they are. I always tell them I want them to be better humans when they are done here.

What are some specific ways you invest in your student ambassadors?

I love challenging students to think bigger, to explore, and be willing to process things and not be afraid to ask questions. I walk alongside them in such a way that they are the cream of the crop when they leave, not just professionally, but also so they can work well with anyone and know who they are.

I have an open-door policy with the students. They can talk to me about anything they want. 

I schedule a monthly meeting with all 26 to check in on how they’re doing in school, their morale, how work is going. It’s their time. We also have a monthly meeting to come together as a team.

What makes Football Frenzy so popular?

Football Frenzy is super fun. It's tied into an evening football game. There’s a drumline at the game, and our student ambassadors throw a lot of Northwestern swag into the stands.

It’s also one of two events where we give away scholarships. Every student has a chance to be selected for a kicking contest during halftime. If their name is chosen, they automatically get a $1,000 scholarship. The students whose numbers are drawn can participate in a field goal contest for a chance to increase their scholarship prize to $3,000, $5,000, or $10,000! 

Students can also go on campus tours during the Football Frenzy event, have dinner on campus, and attend a student fair.

Has anyone ever won the $10,000 scholarship at Football Frenzy?

Yes! We did have a student win $10,000!

Fall Preview Days is also around the corner. How does that differ from Football Frenzy?

Football Frenzy and Hoops Hysteria give students a great picture of the community and what life is like on campus and at Northwestern athletic events. Fall Preview days are more of a preview of an academic day at Northwestern. Students get to visit a class, meet faculty, attend chapel, and eat lunch in the dining hall. Then they choose their own adventure: take a tour or attend a session on athletics, nursing, Music & Theatre.

Students can attend both Football Frenzy and the Fall Preview Days; that will give them a picture of both academic and campus life.

What is your favorite admissions event?

The sports events—Football Frenzy and Hoops Hysteria— are really fun, but Icebreaker is probably my favorite. It’s a two-day overnight event, so we get more time with the students and are able to do more things. They really get a feel for campus life. It’s the one event that is for students only, and it’s fun to see students navigate the weekend themselves. Decisions to attend Northwestern are often made during the Icebreaker weekend.

What do you think makes UNW a great choice for prospective students?

A solid combination of high academic rigor and making sure the academics help students know what they believe and reinforce a firm foundation of faith.

“Community” is what I hear students say all the time. There is such a tight knit community of students and faculty at Northwestern.

Spiritual growth. Community. Academics. Northwestern does a really good job of making sure all of these are strong.

What advice would you give to a student checking out colleges?

When planning a visit, really hone in on what you feel would give you the best view of who we are. Ask a lot of questions! Enjoy all of the events. Check everything out.

Figure out what is most important to you (faith, academics, athletics, music) and then, when on campus, experience and get the most information you can about those things to see if Northwestern is a good fit.

What advice would you give to parents visiting schools with their high school kids?

Work together with your student to plan your visit. Be an active participant, but let your student lead. It’s a big decision your student is making. Then take advantage of what is here for you. Ask your questions. Enjoy the process.

What do you love most about working at UNW?

I love working in admissions. We really enjoy working together as a team. It’s a team that genuinely cares for each other beyond the work that we’re doing. We pray for each other in our meetings. That’s pretty unique.

Fall Preview Days will be held October 17, 18, and November 1, 8, and 15. Registration for Fall Preview Days ends Monday, October 14, 2019. (Half-day visits are offered on October 17 and 18; full-day visits from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. are offered on November 1, 8, and 15.) 

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