Sylvia Karpf knows what it takes to keep NACAC’s National College Fairs program humming along.
From planning and promoting individual fairs, to negotiating with vendors and managing the program’s operating budget—Karpf has done it all over her three-decade tenue with the association.
“I still come to work with the same excitement that I had on my first day,” said Karpf, who joined the college fairs program as an administrative assistant and now serves as the department’s senior associate director. “I love the program, and I love what I do.”
Karpf, who celebrates her 30th year with NACAC this month, recently sat down with Admitted to talk about finding her niche, the value of college fairs, and what inspires her work.
What initially drew you to the association?
I initially worked for a software company. When I saw the ad for NACAC, the open position was in the conference department. I ended up working with them for three years. Then an opening came up in college fairs. I had seen all the great work they were doing planning the fairs and I wanted to be involved. I started as an administrative assistant, then I became the operations manager, then the assistant director, then the associate director, and now the senior associate director. It’s really become a career for me, and I’ve greatly enjoyed it.
How have your day-to-day duties changed through the years? What were your responsibilities when you first started out? What are your top priorities now?
Marketing was, and still is, a major factor in making the fairs successful. I started out planning college fairs, so promotion was a big part of the job. You wanted to make sure you brought in as many students as possible so the exhibitors would be excited and would want to come back.
In my position today, I’m in charge of the budget for the program itself — all 95 fairs. There’s a lot of big picture thinking about the planning and organization of the fairs, and I work to make sure that the event managers have the skills they need to make their fairs successful.
Over the past three decades, the NCF program as a whole has really grown—both in terms of students served and in its reputation for quality. When you look back at the last 30 years, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
When I started, we had around 30 fairs. Now we have 95. Seeing the growth and getting to see the impact on students and parents—it’s been great. It’s also really rewarding to look at all the event managers I’ve mentored, and see the impact that’s made on the program and on their individual careers.
Overall, I’m proud of the work I’ve done to keep the fairs moving forward. I was involved in the initiation of lead retrieval, and worked to develop the program to where it is today. I am also fortunate to speak three different languages—Spanish, French, and English—and that’s allowed me to produce newsletters, posters, and other materials to help us better serve our growing population of Spanish-speakers.
And of course, I was also involved in the creation of the PVAs — the Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs — which are now in 25 cities.
You continue to work closely with the PVAs; what’s one thing you wish all NACAC members knew about that program?
It’s growing! We added three new PVAs in 2017— Charlotte, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; and Phoenix, Arizona.
One thing that makes them so special is the parent involvement. When you go to a PVA, because it’s from 7 to 9 in the evening, all the students come with their parents. And the students are very, very well-prepared. Students in performing and visual arts know what they want.
There’s so much excitement. It’s really a very special atmosphere.
What motivates you? What inspires your work?
I have a passion for what I do, and that really drives me. Every morning, I’m excited to go to work. There’s never a dull moment for me. Every day brings different challenges, and I love that because I love to be able to resolve problems.
The other thing that excites me is my team. They share that same passion for college fairs, and knowing that motivates me to constantly keep learning. Every day, I learn something new from someone on my team or from a committee chair. That input and energy inspires me.
Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.