By Curtis Morisaki
Higher education inspires people to do great things and sometimes the field allows professionals to work at the same institution for 24 years. Steve Maples, Director of Admissions, at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) is one example and has taken advantage of the opportunity.
Growing up in Oregon for the first 10 years of his life and later moving to Reno, Maples always felt a connection to his birth state. He decided to attend the University of Oregon for undergrad and majored in philosophy. What sticks out for Maples is what one of his professors told him, “Follow two things and you will be successful and happy in life. Find what you love and make money out of it, in that order.”
Following his graduation from Oregon, Maples decided to move back to Reno and figure out his next steps. One of his friends who worked as a recruiter at UNR told Maples he was leaving for law school and that he should look into the job opening. From that time the 24-year (and counting) career at UNR was born.
Maples started as a recruiter, moved to start and run a Summer Bridge Program, later became Director of Orientation and is currently Director of Admissions. Since working at UNR, Maples earned his master’s and doctorate degree in counseling. The challenge is what drives Maples. “I tell people that the thing I love about my job is that I love to refine things because they can always be better,” said Maples.
Passionate is one of the many words one can use to describe Maples. Maples realizes he has other opportunities for career advancement because of his experience and education, but doesn’t want to lose what he loves the most about the work. He directs the ambassador program and at a retreat the students summed up their experiences and many students complimented him. “I call it mattering and one of the most important things in this world is to matter.”
Middle management sometimes get a bad rap, but Maples enjoys it because he gets to have meaningful contact, dialogue and growth with the students. “I love being a director of admissions and I don’t want to be something else because that will take me away from the students and I’d no longer love what I do.”
The greatest reward for Maples is best summed up by one of his former recruiters. She later moved on to work at a highly selective institution, but told Maples that what makes UNR special is the opportunity to expose first generation students and their families to the value of higher education. The one shot to explain why paying for an education after years of free schooling is a challenging, but satisfying part of the job when you are successful.
Working with the student ambassadors is another perk of Maples’ role. He has a deal with his boss that if he’s the advisor to the student ambassadors that he’ll be satisfied. “My boss knows that as long as I get to play with my students that I’ll stay.”
Maples’ role also comes with challenges. UNR is in a part of the state where only 18% of the K-12 population resides and the rest are over 400 miles away. He knows that approximately 85% of students in the United States attend college within a 150 miles of home. “If we were to do that (only have a majority of student within 150-miles), we’d dry up and blow away overnight,” jokes Maples. Recruitment is a challenge, but one he successfully meets because Maples knows that UNR is emerging as an institution and needs to serve many different groups and purposes.
Leading a team of admission professionals is a challenge for Maples because it’s not easy to find great people and keep them for the long term. When he heard that a lot of schools have recruiters that stay for two years of less he was scared because recruiters at UNR can last for many years. In order to keep staff motivated and refreshed, Maples allows his team to come up with projects they’d like to complete and gives them the freedom and resources to accomplish their goals.
Motivation to continue working at UNR and in college admission is not hard to come by for Maples. In the past he’d say he worked for a school that he’s proud to serve. Now, times have changed because he has two children that will attend college in the near future. His mentality has changed.
“I’ve got a few more years left to try and create a university worthy of them attending. I can say that if either or both of my children chose Nevada that I’d be proud of that decision and I’d feel like it was a great decision for them.”
Odds & Ends
Pondering over the future of college admissions work is something Maples thinks about on a regular basis. He believes it will always come down to access and that will always be the point where everyone working in admissions will need to take a look at.
Maples sees the advancement in technology and use of analytics and predictive modeling as the biggest change. The use of form letters are not as effective as they used to be, especially when he sees his daughter zip through her Vine. Even though technology changed the admission landscape, one thing remains consistent for Maples and that’s the relationship building with students and schools.
His advice for staying fresh is to try new things. The job can get monotonous and having different projects to work on throughout the year can help keep you energized. “Find those opportunities where you are not just the recruiter.”
Challenges are different at each school, but Maples knows that everyone faces them. His lasting tip for up and coming professionals is to align with people in the field and use them as a support system.