ANAHEIM, Calif. — For Baptist colleges in Southern Arkansas, the denomination’s annual meeting is a golden opportunity to greet alumni and woo prospective students.
Earlier this week, representatives from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia staked out prime real estate in the Anaheim Convention Center’s exhibit hall, handing out promotional brochures as well as portable fans that s light up and spin at the touch of a button.
It’s a trip that school president Ben Sells tries not to miss.
“We have a lot of alumni who are pastors. About 10% of our student body majors in Christian studies for ministry. So they graduate and they go to serve churches and it’s a natural place for them to come,” Sells said.
When the convention is in full swing, there is little downtime.
“It’s been a steady stream. There’s been no break all morning,” he said.
Exhibitors here and elsewhere at the convention represent a variety of ministries, causes or products.
At many booths, visitors can pick up swag – squishy stress balls, chocolate and cotton Hershey t-shirts are popular items.
Elsewhere at the convention, DaySpring, headquartered in Siloam Springs, offered a wide assortment of Christian greeting cards — no strings attached.
Officials at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge handed out pens and tote bags while promoting a program that allows students to graduate debt-free.
Stan Norman, the school president, manned the booth, insisting it was time well spent.
“[Alumni] pass, friends pass. In some ways, it’s a bit like a Baptist family reunion, so this environment gives us an opportunity to interact, fellowship, and encourage one another with a platform we wouldn’t otherwise have.” , did he declare.
For young people interested in pursuing post-secondary education in an evangelical setting, the exhibit is a godsend.
Missouri Baptist University, Mississippi Baptist University, and California Baptist University all had booths, along with Liberty University and more than a dozen others.
Connections made this week will, sooner or later, translate into new college admissions, said Will Brantley, Oklahoma Baptist University’s vice president for enrollment management and marketing.
“Each year, we have at least two or three students who come [Oklahoma Baptist University] because we met them at the convention,” he said.
This year is no exception.
“We have a student we met this week who is a rising senior from another state who applied last night and is now really interested and wants to come visit us,” he said.
Regardless of their level of interest, visitors are offered a free Oklahoma Baptist t-shirt featuring the school’s mascot, a bison. However, latecomers may not get the size they want.
As closing time approached Wednesday, Brantley and the others were trying to get rid of their remaining inventory: a dozen cotton t-shirts. All XXXL.