Mercer’s assistant director of New Student Programs’ unexpected road to Macon

Emma Peel, Staff Writer

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Amanda Carls grew up in a small town in rural Illinois surrounded by cornfields. Gridley, a town with a population of 1,465, offered her safety and security as a child. But as she grew older, Carls realized that she wanted more.

As an undergraduate student majoring in public relations at the University of Northern Iowa, Carls had her sights set on becoming a wedding planner.

“In my high school yearbook, I said I wanted to be a wedding planner. I wanted to be really tan, and I wanted to live in a yellow house with a white picket fence,” Carls said with a laugh.

Her professional career could not have gone in a more opposite direction. During her first year as an undergraduate, she interned with the bridal division of a local newspaper. Carls said that being surrounded by high-strung, nervous and bossy brides quickly made her rethink her dream job.

Over the next three years, she became highly involved in campus life as an orientation leader and fell in love with student affairs. After graduating from Northern Iowa, Carls was offered an intern position at Mercer in the student affairs department.

“My entire family is from the Midwest and no one has ever left. I never saw moving to Georgia as part of my plan. But somewhere along the way this door opened up for me to intern at Mercer, and I came for three months and cried the whole way home because Mercer wasn’t about the place. It was about the people,” Carls said.

After falling in love with Mercer as an intern, Carls hasn’t been able to resist the pull of the Mercer community.

“I tell my students all the time that this place has to be special for me to want to move 1,000 miles away from home to work here,” she said.

Carls has now been employed by Mercer since 2010 as the  and said that she enjoys how involved with students this position allows her to be on a daily basis.

“I really enjoy academic coaching,” Carls said. “When students are having a rough time in classes I get to partner with them and help them make a plan and get them connected to resources.”

She said that although academic counseling isn’t necessarily a part of her job description, she appreciates the close relationships she can build with students at Mercer through her counseling. In fact, being a part of a small, highly interconnected community is precisely the reason Carls  said she loves Mercer.

“I knew that working at a school like Mercer, students would become people with a name, a face, and a story,” she said.

Throughout her time at Mercer, Carls has built strong connections with many of her students. One of those students is Tori Tanner, a senior peer advisor that will be graduating in May with degrees in Communication Studies and Spanish.

“Amanda is one of those people who inspires everyone she comes in contact with,” Tanner said. “Her love for students is contagious and she works so hard to help every student succeed. She is passionate about her job and Mercer, and working with her has been the best experience. Not only was Amanda my supervisor, but she is also my mentor, my friend and one of my biggest fans.”

Between leading Mercer’s summer orientations and Bear Beginnings, Carls spends a significant amount of time interacting one-on-one with first year students. She is acutely aware that leading freshman orientations gives her the opportunity to impact students’ entire college experience, as well as influence the strength of the relationships and connections they build.

“What I would love to see is for every student to find an organization or an activity that allows them to plug into who they are and who they want to be,” Carls said. “Student involvement is what helps students feel as though they belong.”

Carls has noticed that within higher education, students seem to either be overly involved in campus activities or significantly under-involved. She thinks that, much like many other universities, Mercer needs more of a balance.

One way that students can get involved and leave an impact on Mercer is through the Peer Advisor and Orientation Leadership Team programs.

“One of the things I really try to instill in [the Peer Advisors and Orientation Leadership Team members] is that they are growing and developing the next generation of Mercerians, and they are showing the new students what it means to be a Mercer Bear,” Carls said. “They’re leaving a legacy as a PA or as a Leadership Team member that will live on long after they are gone, because those students will turn around and do the same thing for someone else.”

This focus on building sustainable connections, which is highly emphasized by the Mercer community, motivated Carls the minute she stepped on campus as an intern. She continues to urge first year students to carry on this Mercer tradition.

 

“When it comes down to it, this place isn’t special because we have a pretty Administration building,” Carls said. “This place is special because there are people who plug into your story and care to invest in you as a person.”

 

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