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A Student's Story: A Different Kind Of Recruiting

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Jon Johnston

This story is not about sport. It is about my daughter's journey to choosing a college. I offer it as an example of recruiting of a different kind.

It is January 30th, 2014. I am driving our 2002 Ford Focus down I-35. My daughter and wife like the Ford. I hate it. It is too small, too light and it seems like every time I drive it, it's the worst weather possible.

The wind is blowing. The road is icy. It's snowing, but not so heavy that it's a white out. Every time a gust of wind hits us, the car slides and my wife shakes a little. Every time a semi passes, it's all I can do to keep the car on the road.

We're on our way to the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, so that my daughter Natalya can make it to a "pre-health" Red Letter day so that she can learn more about what UNL has to offer. She plans to visit UNL and Biola University, a small Christian liberal arts college in La Mirada, California, which is south of Los Angeles. She is planning on becoming a doctor, majoring in biochemistry.

While the car is sliding around, with the ice, the wind, I am thinking "if she goes to Southern California, all I have to do is drive to the airport." These are the worst conditions I've ever driven in and I have driven in a lot of horrible conditions. I sense my wife's worry; as we continue on her nervousness is getting worse.

Just north of Albert Lea, Minnesota, I turned to Natalya and say "We're not going to make it. I'm sorry."

At Albert Lea, we stop, and find a hotel; one next to a bar, of course.

I get the feeling I'm more sorry for me than for her, though. UNL is my alma mater. It is her mother's alma mater. Lincoln, Nebraska is a special place for us. I hoped that maybe it might be a special place for her, too. I tried hard to not push her too hard in that direction, fully aware that rebellion would occur. At one point, I recommended she look at Purdue and Indiana. She responded by saying "You're just using me for football." My mouth opened for a response. I gave her none.

I am disappointed, because I wanted her to see what Nebraska could offer her in her major.

My daughter will never officially visit the University of Nebraska.

On February 20th, we begin our trip to the airport for a four-day jaunt to Southern California to visit Biola University. I am unsure of how Biola University entered into our lives. I had never heard of it before the daughter brought it up, and I'm a guy who follows just about every collegiate sport there is. This is not the issue, I tell myself; I don't want to use her for football.

We leave our house in a white out blizzard. A white out is when the snow and wind are so bad that you can see nothing but "white out". It is about 20-25 miles from the house to the airport. Along the way, the right windshield wiper breaks, and every time we use the wipers, it scraps metal on the windshield, making a loud screeching noise. I'm thinking that I earned this, almost like I asked for it - "All I have to do is drive to the airport." Our flight is delayed over an hour and when we finally get on the plane, we wait another 45 minutes more de-icing.

The flight is unremarkable and we are picked up at the airport by her boyfriend, who zips us to our hotel in Redondo Beach. It is Learly Friday morning, dependent upon your perspective. Saturday, Natalya spends with her boyfriend while Heidi and I take a walk to the nearby beach.

Minnesota winters can be very harsh. This past winter was particularly harsh with way too many -20 degree days and endless snow. Add to that a lack of sun and it's easy to understand why so many Northerners spend at least part of the winter depressed (and drinking too much). I fall into a depression after football season has ended. It tends to hit Heidi in February.

Once we're at the beach, Heidi takes her sandals off to feel the sand in her toes. As she walks I can see her brighten; it is as if everything about her becomes lighter with each step she takes. Her reaction to the sun and the beach is beyond beautiful. I realize that if the daughter decides to attend school here that I can fly her out her in February for a few days every year and she will return much better off than when I sent her.

We spend Sunday sightseeing, walking around Redondo Beach. The weather is wonderful, the beach enticing, and the people are so nice it bothers me.

Our visit to Biola comes Monday.

Monday morning we head to Biola University. We head to the admissions building to register so that we can take a tour. The campus is tiny; the tour lasts only an hour. I notice that there are no Taj Mahal's here; at no point does the tour guide point out the multi-gazillion dollar recreational facility built specifically to draw prospective students as I've seen at other campuses. There are no great halls to commemorate wealthy alumni. The dorms are fairly simple. Biola hasn't spent money on trying to "enhance the collegiate experience" while driving tuition rates up. I respect this.

At the end of the tour, our guide asks if there is anything else we need. I ask to see the head of the science department. I have several questions, one in particular. We meet with Dr. Harvey Havoonjian, who received his doctorate from UCLA. His is the designated health advisor for Biola University. I notice his UCLA paraphernalia, and comment that my wife and I are Nebraska alums. My daughter glances at me sideways; I am using her for football. We spend a couple minutes talking college football, then the focus shifts back to Natalya.

My question: "Why would my daughter attend this tiny little university which offers only a few options in pre-med when she could attend the University of Minnesota or the University of Nebraska, both of which offer about 30?"

He makes two main points. Biola's small enrollment (approximately 4,000 undergrads) is an advantage since there are more advisors per student than there would be at a large university. Second, he talks about the relationship that Biola has with several area hospitals; that part of her program track will require her to shadow physicians. He starts naming hospitals and as he does, I think about how many hospitals there are in Lincoln, Nebraska. There are three. My conclusion is that with Nebraska's large enrollment and small state population that this is an opportunity she probably would not get there.

Dr. Havoonjian is affable; he might as well be in sales as much as a professor. He does an excellent job and by the time he's done I am comfortable with her attending Biola, although my opinion counts for little in the decision making process. I watch Natalya; she is comfortable with the conversation they have about her future at Biola.

Our trip complete, we head to Huntington Beach for a couple hours before heading to the airport. There are plenty of surfers, the beach is once again, beautiful; I try to keep the thought of heading back to Minnesota in February out of my mind for just a little while longer.

We're at the airport waiting for our plane when Natalya says "I"m going to school here" with a matter of fact tone as if it were pre-determined long before she was born.

The boyfriend. Southern California's weather. The beach, an attraction for Natalya, who has learned to like surfing, and her mother, who now has a reason to visit in winter. A small Christian university with a good pre-med program. The idea that she is moving far away from her family was never a concern.

There is too much here to overcome. My hopes of her attending the University of Nebraska never really had a chance. UNL did a decent job of granting scholarships, but so did Biola. The cost differential was not great enough to sway that decision.

Today we begin the move-in process at Biola University. At this point, I'm supposed to say something like "just yesterday she was my little sweetheart and now she's going to college. It all went so fast" as if I don't know where the years went. I know where they went. We spent them. We spent them preparing her for the world that awaits her, helping her to make the choice she's made, one that isn't dependent upon our needs or wishes but on hers.

She has her own sense of the world, and she has a plan. It's time to see how well she does with it.