Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, as the son of two pastors, Quinton Clay learned early about the value of higher education.
He and his older siblings – a brother and a sister – had watched their mother, Mary, return to school to earn an associate degree. They’d observed their father, Gilbert Sr., working harder to make room for community college in his wife’s busy life.
“My mother and father are two of the most intelligent, wisest people I’ve ever met,” Clay says.
“Having the confidence of these two hard-working, working-class folks was certainly pivotal for me, and I wanted to build upon some of the values they instilled in me: citizenship, sensitivity, work ethic, grit and also the soft professional skills. That was all part of my DNA, if you will, from the beginning.”
Yet when Clay became the first in his family to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution, his decision required a great amount of learning in a short amount of time.
“I was one of the fortunate ones who had a positive experience in the admissions process through the intervention of a resourceful and attentive admissions counselor,” Clay says. “I came into my profession through this outstanding experience.”
Motivated to serve as that same hero to countless other students, parents and families, Clay became an admissions counselor and multicultural recruitment liaison at Coe College in 2005.
Thirteen years later, after traveling to 36 states and nine countries to usher bright minds into higher education, he is bringing his talents to NIU as the new director of Admissions. He begins Wednesday, June 20.
Sol Jensen, vice president for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications at NIU, says that Clay is “a great fit for NIU and the direction that we are heading as an institution.”
“Quinton comes to us with a wealth of experience working at some of the most prestigious institutions in the country, and also with a long history of recruiting a diverse population of students from the greater Chicago area,” Jensen says.
“We’re going to be working together on creating a longer-term recruitment plan, which will include goals, strategies and metrics to assess our efforts in achieving each goal,” he adds. “We will work collaboratively with the academic deans and colleges, and determine how we can assist in achieving their enrollment goals as well.”
Following stops at Grinnell College, DePaul University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Cornell University, where he currently serves as associate director of Admissions, Clay is enthusiastic about NIU.
“NIU, in my opinion, has deeply civic convictions and a really unique market position, and I’m drawn to both,” he says. “Institutions of similar size, they can kind of easily drift from their commitment to undergraduate students. NIU has certainly anchored around, and has certainly challenged the faculty and staff, to complete its commitment.”
Clay also appreciates NIU’s “wonderful academic and research opportunities, done within the context of a supportive community.”
“That aligns with my personal values and foundations: that unique combination of mission, and then also the follow-through – the accountability – to facilitate that mission in a contemporary way,” he says. “NIU is certainly there, and that’s a legacy I want to push forward.”
What that will involve, he says, is strategy and collaboration.
“I’m a strategist. I’m a data-informed person. I’m not a silver-bullet kind of guy; I’m definitely a person who wants to use strategy and data the best we can. I’m deeply invested in sustainable growth, improving processes, maximizing efficiencies, finding a way to balance outreach in a regional and national context,” he says.
“NIU has a hard-working and passionate Office of Admissions, and I’m eager to build on their momentum,” he adds, “and to really leverage NIU’s outstanding, and what I consider to be an extremely loyal, alumni network – a tremendously powerful resource. I definitely see right away a huge opportunity to mobilize them as ambassadors.”