Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Already halfway to its $4.7 million goal, the university turns to best-selling author Rebecca Wells — and all of us — to help make the mark. By Cherry Fisher May

I hardly knew what to expect. Dr. Duleep Delpechitre, professor of marketing in UL’s B.I. Moody School of Business, invited me recently to judge sales presentation skills among eight upper-level students who were vying for a scholarship and a spot to represent the university in national competition. The students had been given a description for a make-believe software system. Their calls on a prospective “client,” played by a local businessman who was tough to close, was televised via Skype onto a big screen to be viewed by the judges. We were seated in a small auditorium with scorecards so we could rank each student on a range of specific skills from the initial handshake to inking the deal. The difference in scores was miniscule. I could have hired any one of them on the spot.

Weeks later I was invited to join Crawford Comeaux, who works with FiberCorps, at Olivier Hall. He was rounding up computer science students to compete in submitting ideas for Google’s Summer of Code. As he scribbled on brainstorming grids to be posted on the lobby wall, he described one UL junior’s entry, which envisioned a computer program that could scan all Tweets from all over the world in real time to identify emerging trends before they become news. Malcolm Gladwell sold millions of books by analyzing such behavior retrospectively in his bestseller The Tipping Point; our UL student’s concept might render Gladwell’s ground-breaking work quaint.

These visits gave me the chance to immerse myself in campus culture, briefly but long enough to get a sense of the renaissance that is sweeping our local university. Newly completed buildings abound with more under way, all with high-tech amenities to help students learn. No longer an open admissions institution, UL now requires that students score at least a 23 on the ACT, which enhances the academic feel of the university and student commitment to success. From the juice that new Ragin’ Cajun coach Mark Hudspeth has brought the football program to the fly-over animation video of the construction currently under way and funded by student fees (check it out on youtube.com/watch?v=xeh9dKUAArQ), UL is exploding with energy as we enter the 21st century.

Even UL’s new fundraising Campaign for Scholarships boasts an honorary chair with impressive star power: best-selling author and Alexandria, La., native Rebecca Wells, whose nieces Claire Wells and Emily Wells Moody are both UL grads. The creator of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood flew in from Seattle recently to stand beside UL President Joe Savoie at a press conference and make an eloquent case for investing in the future students of our university. The campaign, which so far has focused on direct solicitation to individual donors and trusts, is already halfway to its goal of $4.7 million. Now the public drive has commenced. We should all be generous and resourceful, like Connie Rogue Steward. The retired Exxon employee turned $7,500 into a $100,000 donation by taking maximum advantage of several matching programs, including Exxon, the Moody Family Matching Fund and a state of Louisiana match, which encourages first-generation college grads to give back.

In the age of selective admissions, UL will be increasingly competing against other schools for the best and brightest, and this campaign is critical for its success. There are some great things happening at our university. It’s time to support our winning team.

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