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Fair Thinking

My husband and I made our biennial sojourn to the Iowa State Fair this year. Our walk through the Varied Industries Building always brings back memories about the many years I worked there, while in college admissions. Most noticeable change for me? The number of colleges with displays in the Varied Industries Building. 

I worked the fair for 15 years, when I was in Admissions at the now defunct AIB College of Business. There was no bigger fan of the Iowa State Fair than my boss, at that time, Tom Shively. My first summer on the job, he would come to work during fair time, fired up from his visit the day before, adamantly saying, “We NEED to be at the fair. Those are the families that come to this school.” That next year, he was able to secure a booth in the Varied Industries Building.

The Varied Industries Building was open and not air-conditioned. Raccoons inhabited the rafters and provided great daily entertainment as they lounged on the beams scoping out the food they would forage for later that night. We had to cover our exhibit tables to keep them free of dust and raccoon-droppings. This was 1991 and we had an employee dress code of nylons and skirts or dresses, as did many business offices. Imagine working in that building in nylons and 90+ Iowa August days. We did and survived.

We may have been the only college there, at that time, surrounded by ladder people, cemetery monument builders, and the Critchet Piano folks playing the organs and pianos. Drake had its own location in a separate building. Possibly Simpson was there – local institutions at the most. Then the State universities appeared, one by one. Gradually more joined the fray. This year I counted 22 Iowa ACAC member colleges and organizations in the renovated, air-conditioned, building.

Is it worth it? This year it was $23,100 simply to rent the booth for 11 days. Add in potential cost of renting carpet, tables, chairs, extra literature, tattoos, other giveaways, etc. For some, that means keeping it simple, like we did. For others, it seems the sky is the limit.

Some colleges and organizations have tried it, but found the investment could be used in better ways. Some aspire to “move up” from their 10x10 booth to a corner or double booth. One college, Dordt, was there for the first time. There is a waiting list and they finally made it. The Dordt employee at the booth was excited about the potential, since they have an Ag program. 

Doug Bannon, Dean of Admissions and Student Life at Kirkwood Community College, says he thinks the state fair is one the best things they do as a college for recruitment and alumni relations.

“It really gives us great exposure statewide and to out-of-state contacts that stop at our booth. Positive connections and positive relations - I can’t say enough of what the fair means to Kirkwood!”

As with exhibiting at any special event, you have to weigh the ROI. Will Iowa ACAC ever have a booth at the State Fair? I’m confident in saying no. It’s not feasible for us resource-wise – both financial and labor. However, we do choose to support the Iowa School Counselor Association (ISCA) conference, by sponsoring a breakout & exhibiting, and exhibiting at the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB). Our support for ISCA reflects our belief in the importance of professional school counselors and the invaluable role they play as partners in the transition to postsecondary education. The school board members attending IASB are eager to learn about what we do, are very proud to talk about their school counselors, and are open to learning about professional development opportunities for them.  

You won’t find Iowa ACAC at the fair, but that’s okay. I have faith that the member colleges & organizations that are there do us proud – showcasing the diverse educational opportunities we have for students in Iowa.

Visit our Facebook page to see more Iowa ACAC member photos from the fair!

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