By RANDY TATANO
Special to Atmore News
It isn’t every day a former United States congressman shows up at local high schools as a recruiter. But that’s what Jo Bonner does in his current job as president of the University of South Alabama.
However, he didn’t visit Escambia County’s three high schools to sign any football stars. Rather, it’s part of his campaign to meet students face to face who are considering college. Bonner visited W.S. Neal, Flomaton, and Escambia County High schools and delivered a presentation that touched on everything from entrance requirements to scholarships to campus life. Bonner even brought along some members of the Jaguar Band, giving the event the feel of a pep rally. It was the first time anyone from USA had visited the county schools.
Escambia County Schools Assistant Superintendent Michele Collier was thrilled Bonner made the trip to give students a personal look at college life.
“It was amazing that USA visited all three schools, making the students of Escambia County a priority,” she said. “When colleges visit, students have the opportunity to learn about the opportunities that are out there for them. The visit was an example of putting students first and ensuring that all high school students preparing for college or the workplace learn of the opportunities to attend college.”
Bonner, who represented Alabama’s First District in the US House of Representatives for 12 years before taking the job at USA in 2021, said visits such as this are important for students thinking about a degree after high school.
“Going to college is a big decision for both the students and their families and our goal is simple … to introduce the University of South Alabama to students throughout Escambia County by showing them what a degree from South could do for their future,” Bonner said. “It’s also a way for us to showcase some of our current students and invite juniors and seniors from Brewton, East Brewton, Atmore and Flomaton to come visit us and see all that South has to offer.”
When asked about the immediate response to his visit, he said, “In a word, ‘Amazing!’ Before we got back to Mobile, we had emails from dozens of students, some who were already thinking about South and wanted to come for a visit, as well as others who had never thought college was either affordable or attainable and who, now, want to take a closer look.”
Collier feels visits like this one can be eye opening for some who hadn’t even considered attending a university.
“The student may be the first person in the family to go to college,” she said. “I think this increases the number of students who are interested in college.”
Brewton resident Randy Tatano is a veteran TV news reporter and network producer, and is currently a novelist and freelance writer for the Escambia County School System.