NACAC’s Gregory Ferguson applied to the association three times before being hired in 1987 as assistant director of National College Fairs (NCF).
What kept him coming back? Unwavering support for the program’s mission.
“I really firmly believe: For any student who wants to go to college, there is an institution out there for them,” said Ferguson, who celebrated his 30th year with NACAC last month. Under his leadership, the NCF program has grown steadily and gained a national reputation for quality.
Ferguson, who now serves as the program’s executive director, recently sat down with Admitted to talk about his contributions to NACAC, the future of the NCF program, and what inspires his work.
What initially drew you to NACAC?
I felt NACAC had something to offer all students, regardless of their socioeconomic or ethnic background. Previous to NACAC, I developed the Summer Educational Experience Program (SEEP) for students of color, coordinated an Educational Opportunity Center Unit for students in Philadelphia, and founded a Talent Search Program for students in Chester, Pennsylvania. I also secured funding in excess of $250,000 from the William Penn Foundation to open a regional college access office in Philadelphia. As a result of my experiences, I felt that I had a great deal of expertise to help not only students of color, but all students. The NCF program was very attractive to me because it welcomed a wide-range of institutions and a wide-range of students from all different backgrounds.
How has the National College Fairs program changed since you’ve joined the association?
When I started here in ’87, I think we had probably 35 National College Fairs, and an NCF staff of five. Today we have over 90 programs, which include not only National College Fairs, but Performing & Visual Arts College Fairs and STEM College and Career Fairs.
NACAC’s National Colleges Fairs are well-respected among counselors, colleges, and families alike. What’s the secret to the program’s success?
Our members are very engaged in the program, which is a huge part of its success. Each fair is supported by a local committee of volunteers. They see the value of what they’re doing, in terms of bringing these programs to the inner-city and to suburban and rural areas to assist students in finding that right fit.
Our fairs are also successful because they are well-respected. Around the country other organizations will try to emulate what we do. What makes our fairs so significant and so important is that they have rules and regulations. The programs are offered and operate with integrity.
During your time at the helm, the NCF program has continued to expand, adding new fairs and serving new areas of the country. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
The thing that I’m most proud of is generating revenue for the association…Our fairs really provide a solid (financial) base for the NCF program and for other NACAC programs. I’m also proud of working with the affiliates, letting them know that NACAC is there to support their efforts. Trust is important, and it’s one of the reasons the National College Fairs program has been able to continue to expand. We didn’t have to go looking for sites. People recognized what NACAC was doing and they came to us and wanted us to work with them to coordinate a national fair for their area.
Mentoring young professionals is also important to me, primarily because during the early stages of my career seasoned admission professionals groomed and encouraged me to partake in working with programs that provided postsecondary access. My director of admission from my alma mater, David B. Kent, Jr. exposed me to NACAC, when he served on the Executive Board of NACAC as treasurer. I believe in inspiring those who wish to aspire for greater things in this profession.
How many fairs do you make it to each year?
Four — I’ll go to observe, to keep my hands on the pulse of what’s going on, to talk to members, and to talk to parents and students. As a director, you should immerse yourself into the work that propels you. You must hear from students and their parents; you must hear from exhibitors; you must hear from your staff. You must wear many different hats.
Looking forward, what do you think the future holds for National College Fairs?
I think STEM is in our future. I see those programs taking off and being an integral part of the college fairs arena. I also think there are still some suburban and rural areas that remain untapped in terms of access, and I think we will also start to look more globally. And of course, technology will continue to play a role in how we do things. Lead retrieval has been a tremendous addition to our National College Fairs program, and I foresee technology playing a larger role in the years to come.
What motivates you?
I still very much feel that every student should have access to higher education. I’m excited to come to work knowing that a program that I started working with in 1987 is still going on and is still meaningful to students. When I talk with someone and they tell me they benefited from one of our college fairs, it propels me. It makes me feel that I’ve had a part in changing their lives and in changing the world.
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