Thousands of pretzels line the inside of the Liacouras Center, along with bundles of cherry and white balloons as perky students in khaki pants and owl-inspired attire smile and answer questions for the hundreds of families pouring into the information sessions.
Foam fingers are worn by some of the Owl Ambassadors who led families around for tours, and spontaneous dancing is not only allowed, but encouraged. Signs point to tours, the bookstore at the Student Center and residence halls around Main Campus.
This is the work of Niki Mendrinos, head of the Welcome Center at Temple and what she called an “owlstanding” Experience Temple Day.
“These events are run well, organized well and we have a great group of people that assist with the planning,” Mendrinos said. “The outcome is a little bit kooky, but where else can you do that?”
Mendrinos said recent attacks involving Temple students off campus have raised more concern in parents than usual, but she said she assures all those who visit that security has tightened. She said she will walk with tour groups and answer questions from parents if that is something of concern to them.
Mendrinos joined the Temple community in late 2000 after leaving Pace University in New York City, where she graduated with her bachelor’s degree and worked in the admissions office for a few years. Mendrinos said she knew she would not have a “typical day” of work when she took the job in the admissions office 14 years ago, but since then her responsibilities have grown to include putting on all large events, overseeing marketing and publications, creating the touring program and reviewing applications for prospective students.
During the fall, Mendrinos spends most of her time reviewing and making decisions on applications, while the spring is devoted to planning events for prospective and accepted students.
About half of graduating students are transfers from another school, usually starting at a community or online college to save money while learning the basics in their field. Mendrinos said reviewing applications was tough at first because she wanted to see many of the applicants succeed.
“Sometimes you get an applicant that you read their stuff and wonder, ‘Who is this person? This kid’s application is amazing,’” Mendrinos said. “Often they have these incredible obstacles, and they’ve overcome them to get here.”
Since accepting the position at the Welcome Center, Mendrinos’ biggest accomplishment has been revamping the tour program for prospective students. Each semester, 10 to 12 students are chosen out of about 300 applicants to become Owl Ambassadors, who can be seen all over Main Campus giving tours and helping families during Experience Temple Days.
“I’m looking for students who are strong communicators, good at public speaking, who can deal with difficult situations and genuinely love their school,” Mendrinos said.
Mendrinos said once a student is hired to be an Owl Ambassador, they usually stay in the program until they graduate, even if they study abroad or are away for a year.
Sophomore kinesiology major Vanessa Novinger said her job as an Owl Ambassador is “one of the most fulfilling jobs on campus.” Her coworker, sophomore musical theater major Taylor Ressler agreed, saying it has allowed her to “grow as a person and a communicator.”
Mendrinos called Ray Smeriglio one of her right-hands in the Welcome Center, as an experienced Owl Ambassador. He’s now on the Temple Student Government “TU Believe” ballot, running for the position of student body president.
“He is a mover and a shaker, certainly one of the best representations of what it means to be Temple Made and Temple proud,” Mendrinos said.
Mendrinos said students who become Owl Ambassadors often have good chances at jobs and internships due to their work ethic and dependability. While working with the students in the tour program is close to her heart, Mendrinos said that the reactions from families are the best part of her job. She said prospective students often leave tours feeling better about the university than when they came.
“I do love [Experience Temple Days], it gives you a great rush to put it all together and get positive feedback,” Mendrinos said. “It’s great knowing that you played a pretty considerable role in their decision.”
Paige Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.