Sierra Hayes can go to great lengths to reach high school students.
One time, she traveled deep in the Ozark mountains where a stalled log truck blocked traffic. Worse, there was no cellular service, rendering it impossible to call the school and inform them of her situation. But she got there.
Other times, she may visit high schools in Atlanta or Dallas for their career fairs, where her message continues to be the same: Please consider attending the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
For these students, Hayes is the face of Walton, the first person they meet who can answer their questions about the Walton College, the University of Arkansas and even Northwest Arkansas. Hayes grew up in nearby Springdale.
As undergraduate recruiter for Walton’s Undergraduate Programs, Hayes is seemingly everywhere. Fall is the busiest, where she travels to states neighboring Arkansas and as far as San Diego. Texas students have a strong interest in the University of Arkansas and is often their first choice when selecting an out-of-state college.
Sometimes she sits at a booth for a university fair, competing with other university recruiters, or visits with students during study hall or their lunch. She has visited towns so small, a teacher may be responsible for teaching several grades. Visits to large cities with several schools can take an entire week. From there, she tells students all that the University of Arkansas has to offer, including the benefits of being a business major.
“If that doesn’t get them, the number of companies in the area will,” Hayes says, noting that more than 325 of the Fortune 500 companies have offices of some kind in Northwest Arkansas.
She is often asked about the number of students who receive internships (answer: 91 percent) and those who have secured jobs by graduation (76 percent), both outranking the national average for the past 15 years. Hayes also tells them about the Walton classes that offer real-world experiences, such as Portfolio Management, Arvest Fixed Income and Students Acquiring Knowledge through Enterprise (S.A.K.E.).
Out-of-state high school students are eligible for non-resident tuition award scholarships to the University of Arkansas based on where they live and their GPA, which can mean a 70 to 90 percent reduction from their non-resident portion of their tuition, Hayes says.
U.S. News & World Report lists Walton in the Top 30 of Best Public Business Programs, and Southern Living places Fayetteville as the 11th best college town in the nation, in part, for its bicycle and hiking trails along with rivers nearby for canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts.
Yet, the area’s bonus features are typically not the reason students choose to come to the University of Arkansas. “It’s always the employment outcomes every single time,” Hayes says.
For students who think they are unable to attend college, Hayes helps them find ways to make it happen. “I connect students to all of the resources so they can figure it out,” she says.
No special process is needed to become a Walton student, she tells them. By stating on their college application that they want to study business, students can begin taking courses at Walton and experience all that the college offers.
When students attend orientation, Hayes is there to welcome them and assist Undergraduate Programs advisers. She also introduces them to a team of student ambassadors, who share their positive college experiences. “Ours are great because they get to meet a real student,” Hayes says.
In fact, she says her student ambassadors play a crucial role in the recruiting process and she enjoys getting to know them.
“When they struggle with something, they will come to me because they’re comfortable with me,” Hayes says.
She also has a team of Walton faculty, staff and students who welcome freshmen by writing them encouraging messages on cards. During the pandemic, the student ambassadors also created a strong social media presence through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Hayes graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith with a degree in organizational leadership. She came to the University of Arkansas in 2014 where she worked as an admissions office counselor before joining Walton in 2017.
Helping prospective students find a way to attend college and walking them through the process has been tremendously rewarding, Hayes says.
“They want to know how our students are successful,” Hayes says. “And I think that’s very easy for me to talk about.”