Party crashers

UND Admissions swoops on high-school grad parties of 10 new Fighting Hawks across the region

UND Admissions office, together with student ambassadors, extended a surprise welcome to 10 fledgling Fighting Hawks by crashing their high-school graduation parties, a merry tradition now in its fourth year. Pictured above is incoming UND freshman, Lily Gibson surrounded by UND party crashers this past Saturday in Fargo. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

Last Saturday, when the temperature pushed above 70 F in Fargo, N.D., was a good day for a cornhole rivalry. It unfolded in a manicured yard on the northeast side of town, where Lily Gibson feted her high-school graduation. In the impromptu game, however, she had unlikely opponents: four Admissions representatives and student ambassadors from the University of North Dakota.

In a posse of nearly a dozen, the UND crew had driven from Grand Forks to join, unannounced, the graduation feasts of four incoming UND freshmen. The previous Sunday, the team had surprised fledgling Fighting Hawks in the Grand Forks area.

The party-crashing fiesta, which also swept Bismarck and Minneapolis, is now a tradition in its fourth installment.

“One of the things that UND is really known for is just quality and being on the forefront,” said Phil Irwin, Admissions assistant director. “This is our chance to find those students who are doing the same thing that UND is striving to teach [them] and celebrate them before they even enter that next journey with us. Let them know that we are excited they are coming to UND.”

The concept took shape when another school’s hand-delivery of acceptance letters spurred the Admissions office to brainstorm creative ways to engage with students. The first year of party crashes, naturally, charted a learning curve. The office relied on the usual University application process to covertly figure out the dates and locations of students’ graduation parties.

Now, there is a nomination form that family, friends as well as students can fill out. Admissions representatives sift through the proposals to identify high-achieving students.

“We look at the bios that the [nominators] wrote to see what the student has gone through, what they have done through high school, see what stands out,” said Thomas Muscha, Admissions representative.

A perfect fit

Gibson is a case in point. A dedicated learner, she excelled in AP and college courses, her mom wrote in the nomination sheet concluding with “Lily deserves a smashing UND party.”

So, she got one.

A cornhole game pitted Gibson and her high-school classmate and future UND roommate, Sienna Voglewede, against UND Admissions reps and current students. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

Last Saturday, in the cornhole showdown, Gibson teamed up with Sienna Voglewede, a Fargo North High School peer and another UND-bound grad, against the University squad. The latter won but that did not sour Gibson’s excitement for UND.

“When I toured UND, it was really nice,” Gibson said. “It had what I wanted. It is a big school but it has smaller class sizes, so you can go talk to your teacher and know who your teacher is and know your classmates.”

Voglewede concurred. At what they both dubbed as the perfect blend between “a big school and a small school,” the two future roommates are to pursue demanding majors. Voglewede seems set on occupational therapy, while Gibson, cautioning that she might later change track, is considering biology and genetics.

Whatever program she eventually opts for, however, Gibson now owns a UND hockey jersey to don at games, courtesy of the University Alumni Association & Foundation, which sponsored the gifts the Admissions office presented students.

But beyond a jersey and a UND Bound yard sign, over the past few weeks, the party crashes delivered an inventive, hearty welcome to 10 incoming students. The kelly-green flair of these occasions also boasts a higher purpose than a neat anecdote to gush over, one in line with the University’s strategic engagement efforts.

“It’s a great way to celebrate our incoming students,” said Director of Admissions Jennifer Aamodt. It creates an opportunity for students, families and everybody to get excited about UND,”

Here is what the students from the Grand Forks area and Fargo had to say moments after their party got crashed:

Brandon Leao graduated from Red River High School, where he was extensively involved in music and theater. At UND, he intends to study music education.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Aamodt.

On the UND party crash: “I was really excited because I normally do not get picked for things like this. It was a really nice surprise.”

Why UND: “I chose UND because of it being close to home and being familiar and just how welcoming they are. I have known a lot of people who have gone to UND and they have really liked it. I know a few of the professors who have been super welcoming and super helpful in different activities that I have met them through. I really wanted that rapport with the professors and the people I will be working for the next few years.”

Theodore Krein finished Hatton/Northwood High School, where he played football in the fall and hockey in the spring. Recovering from a shoulder surgery, he hopes to play intramural hockey at UND, where he is planning on a major in accountancy.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Aamodt.

On spotting the UND-branded vehicles the Admissions crew drove to Krein’s home: “I thought they were regular cars at first and then I saw they had the North Dakota Fighting Hawks signs on and I was just in awe. I had no idea what to think.”

Why UND: “I have always liked UND. If you see my closet, it is straight UND shirts and hoodies. I wanted to go to a bigger university inside the state. I didn’t want to go outside the state. So, I thought UND would be a good choice. It is pretty close to home.”

Madison Lippert graduated from Dakota Prairie High School in Petersburg,N.D., where she was part of the basketball team, the volleyball team, the band and choir as well as the group responsible for the yearbooks. A National Honor Society member, she is to pursue speech pathology at UND.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Aamodt.

On the party crash: “I was like, ‘Why is it my party that they are coming to?’ It was cool.”

Why UND: “My mom went there so she has always wanted me to go there. When I decided what I wanted to major in, they had a really good program in it.”

Ross Dent graduated from West Fargo High School with honors. His passion to help others shaped his decision to go into forensic science at UND.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Aamodt.

On being visited by UND party-crashers: “I was very surprised. I was not expecting that at all. It kind of caught me off guard a little bit.”

Why UND: “I went there on a college visit and it really pricked my interest. With my major as a forensic scientist, wanting to go into the medical field, they already have medical programs. It was overall a really good fit for me.”

At Fargo North High School, Kaylie Albertson took AP classes, while playing golf, obtaining her student-nurse credentials and working. At UND’s nursing program, she is to follow in the footsteps of her older sister.

Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

On the party crash: “I was surprised because my mom didn’t tell me about it. She was just like, ‘There is a huge surprise coming. You will be excited.’ I didn’t know what to expect.”

Why UND: “It is for the nursing program because my sister went there and she likes it.”

A gymnast for 15 years and now a coach, McKena Kackman graduated from Fargo North, where she participated in a teaching program, Junior Educators of Tomorrow, that solidified her interest in education. Thus, at UND, she is to major in elementary education.

Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

On UND party-crashers: “I didn’t know what was happening. I was like, ‘Oh, my Gosh, why are these people here.’”

Why UND: “I really like the size of the school. I like that you can do things outside of school too. I also like the elementary education program.”