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Brandon Chalmers: Crafting a Community

Photo by Michael Lewis

The wall behind Brandon Chalmers’s computer is lined with what motivates him to do what he does. Of course, he has pictures of his family: his wife, his two sons and a daughter. What particularly stands out are the numerous letters and thank you notes from students tacked to the wall beside them.

Every single letter Chalmers, coordinator of student recruitment for The University of Alabama’s Honors College, receives from a student, he keeps. It’s a reminder of the very reason he decided to pursue a career in higher education, that what he does deeply matters to people. Each letter tells a different story of a student Chalmers once helped and a stage he was at in his career, with the varying stationaries and handwriting styles to show for it. He points out the first letter he ever received, one positioned above the rest.

Prospective student Delaney and her family walked into the information session Chalmers, an admissions recruiter with UA at the time, was holding as it was coming to an end, missing the one thing they had travelled to see and hear. Chalmers didn’t do what he said he could have done, which was hand the issued brochure and leave for lunch as the room emptied.

He knew he wanted them to leave with a positive experience, so thinking nothing of it, he stayed behind, answered their questions and gave them their own personal session. He even convinced Delaney to try for the Honors College, as she penned in her letter, not knowing that would be his fulltime duty in the near future. It was no big deal to Chalmers; he was merely being himself. However, Delaney appreciated it enough to send him a thank-you later, a small sentiment that now proudly decorates his office.

“I guess I always try to go above and beyond even if it doesn’t quite fit my job description,” Chalmers said.

That desire to help people had always been a part of Chalmers, but he didn’t quite know that meant he would want to work in higher education one day when he was younger. A Tuscaloosa native and UA graduate, Chalmers walked the Quad in 2005 as many freshmen do. He liked where he was, but naturally, he was regretting his biology major. Chalmers originally wanted to go to medical school to become an optometrist. As a wearer of glasses, it made sense to him. He quickly came to realize that, to him, biology was boring. That wasn’t to say he couldn’t do the job, Chalmers joked, but he definitely didn’t want to anymore.

He decided to major in English and minor in creative writing, finding it more fulfilling to put his thoughts to paper and be the one to stimulate someone else’s mind through writing. He continued this with the goal of becoming a professor, but he realized that teaching wasn’t necessarily the avenue of helping others suited for him.

Ultimately, Chalmers sees his former job working at Rose Towers, a dorm where Presidential Village now stands, during his undergraduate years as the precursor to what he does now. He worked at the front desk, answering phones, directing people, and solving problems. He enjoyed helping in small ways, but he still didn’t know that could be his career. His first post-college job with a grant program led him to recognize the possibility of this path, and he began his emergence into the world of higher education, working multiple positions at UA and at a non-profit family resource center in Tuscaloosa, each position holding a common theme of assistance in people’s lives.

Chalmers then stumbled into his current position in November 2018, and he hit the ground running. He certainly does what one would think a coordinator of recruitment does, setting up prospective student visits, masterminding Honors Preview Days, and the like. He’s the contact person for anyone going through the college search and interested in Honors, answering their questions and leading them towards an informed decision, and he represents the UA Honors College at college fairs across the country. There’s more to it than meets the eye, however.

“With what we ask of Brandon’s position, there’s a lot to it. You’re not only recruiting for Honors. We share our students across the campus, and we’re recruiting really high-end, engaged students,” Dr. Ross Bryan, assistant dean of the Honors College, said. “It’s not like you can just show them the regular stuff and say, ‘Here’s what we have to offer.’ It takes a special kind of recruiter.”

The Honors College is particularly trying to do better in recruiting in certain student populations, notably in first-generation students and students of color, and that’s where Chalmers comes in. He helps think of creative ways for the college to market itself.

“He’s been really instrumental in helping us…with how we market ourselves, what we need to look at in our curriculum, the faces of the Honors College and things that matter to students, such as having a sense of belonging,” Dr. Bryan said.

Along with running the recruitment machine, which is what Chalmers’s job traditionally calls for, he’s tasked with thinking of ways to be innovative in his approach and successfully targeting different groups of students as the campus continues to diversify.

While Chalmers fulfills these duties, he continues to not only build relationships with prospective students but current students as well. Whether it be through visiting with students who frequent Nott Hall, eating with students at what he calls “Steak Friday” at Fresh Foods or being an advisor to the Honors College Ambassadors, Chalmers gets to stay with students for four years once he gets them to UA, something he wasn’t necessarily positioned to do in the past.

At the core of what Chalmers does is not only a love for helping people – it’s a love for The University of Alabama and a love of Tuscaloosa. He grew up here, met his wife here, and started a family here, and in this stage of his life, he’s tasked with expanding that very community.

“I just want to bring students into this environment,” Chalmers said.

Originally written for MOSAIC Magazine, linked here.


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