Bus tour carries good will

November 10, 2000

Carol J. Schlueter

Six cities, four days, 1,000 miles and 22 events that touched 1,500 people, from high school students and their parents to alumni and legislative leaders. Those are the mile markers for the Louisiana Hometown Tour, President Scott Cowen's goodwill bus tour, which rolled across the state Oct. 23-26, along with 25 senior officials and staff.

For Cowen, it also meant 22 speeches. More than a dozen television, radio and newspaper interviews. Talks with students in five high schools. Breakfast with high school counselors in three cities. Shaking hands and talking with hundreds of alumni. Along the way, he spread a message of Louisiana cooperation and opened doors for more Louisiana students to enroll at Tulane.

The story behind the numbers is one of teamwork, long hours and the strategic plan in action, with a bottom line that organizers tally as success. "We've done it and it couldn't have been more successful," said Flozell Daniels Jr., assistant director of state government affairs and tour leader. His department, led by Gene D'Amour, vice president of government/agency affairs, organized and staffed the trip. Months of planning, from logistics to communications, went into the tour.

Several departments across campus added behind-the-scenes support--publications, public relations, alumni affairs, alumni development information services, athletics, physical plant and others. Every day of the tour was typically scheduled with a half-dozen events. One particular day began with a president's breakfast with alumni, which was followed by a luncheon with legislators and a drive to the next city, where work continued.

Some staffers joined Cowen for a high school visit. Then everyone was front and center to meet and greet people during an admission event for prospective students and their parents, a reception with alumni and a dinner with more legislators. The first breather came when the crew piled back on the bus to drive to the next city.

"Spend four days with people on a bus and you really get to know them," one tour participant said.

On the road between cities Jane Bickford, vice president for institutional advancement, passed the miles by knitting a purple afghan while she looked over alumni RSVPs for the next event with Rebecca Conwell from health sciences legislative affairs. "On this trip we built many bridges, strengthened old relationships and forged new ones," said Bickford.

Athletics director Rick Dickson might be reading his favorite Elmore Leonard suspense novel, or talking with Cowen about the upcoming basketball season. Government affairs staff member Daniels, office manager Marcia Taylor and Rhonda Floyd, assistant director of government/community affairs huddled over logistics, passed out peanuts and soft drinks, or stuffed goodie bags with Tulane cups and hats for the next big event.

Their fellow staffer Sharon Courtney, assistant director of federal relations, had already driven to the next city to check arrangements. Martha Sullivan, vice president of student affairs, stretched across two bus seats to work on her laptop, while Jack Grubbs and Lance Query compared notes about the high school visits. Grubbs is associate senior vice president for academic affairs and Query is dean of libraries.

Both are fairly new to Louisiana, and learned about cities as they traveled. Paula Burch, university photographer, was perched up front by the driver to snap Louisiana scenes on the fly while Debbie Grant, assistant vice president of university communications, was glued to her cell phone making media calls. Vice president of enrollment management Dick Whiteside and admission counselor Christi Pilkington checked RSVPs for the next event with prospective students.

For part of the trip, bus travelers were joined by others who lent their support--Yvette Jones, senior vice president for planning and administration; Paul Whelton, senior vice president for the health sciences; Pat Mason, vice president of advancement for the health sciences; and Ed Sherman, law school dean. D'Amour and Daniels said they were happy with the strong interest shown by legislators at the events. Daniels saw it as re-creating Tulane's statewide image.

"We've had unbelievable comments from legislators who were touched by the tour." Letters from students Cowen met along the way are now flowing into his mailbox, showing support for his message that Tulane wants more students from Louisiana to apply for admission. After the trip, Grubbs was optimistic. He believes as many as 30 additional Louisiana students may send applications. Cowen's Louisiana messages seemed to energize the alumni community as he talked about partnerships between Tulane and other educational institutions to help Louisiana, how important a national research university is to the state, and how he is depending on alumni to write him with suggestions and input.

"We've been too distant too long to major cities in this state," Cowen told audiences. "There's a new day at Tulane."

Editors note: Writer Carol Schlueter, director of university publications, also was on the road, gathering information from the bus trip for a daily posting on Tulane's Web site at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000