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Release date:March 6

Student touts benefits of college preview events

The choice for college was never a sure bet for Jennifer Wharff Beal. A native of Hobbs, N.M., Beal said her options were fairly open going into her senior year at Hobbs High School.

"My youth minister had gone to Wayland Baptist University, and at camp that summer, I got to visit with students from Wayland's Rec Team," she recalled. "That sparked a lot of interest in me, but I still wasn't sure."

Part of her hesitation stemmed from a recent state law that meant most any student could have attended a New Mexico state institution for free. That offer was tempting. But it wasn't until she attended Wayland's annual college preview event - called Big Weekend - that she came to a decision.

A cheerleader in high school, Beal and a friend decided to take advantage of the opportunity at Big Weekend to tryout for cheerleading. Earning a spot on the squad and being offered a scholarship were big factors toward the decision, and after some other financial matters were cleared up, she was headed to Wayland.

"My decision was really encouraged that weekend. But I had to ask, 'God, is this what you want me to do?'" she said. "Everything just fell into place so I felt like it was a good decision."

As a senior now set to graduate in May, Beal sees Big Weekend from a different angle. She's now part of an organization called Student Foundation, which plays a big role in planning and carrying out the numerous activities planned for the weekend. Now that she's had a hand in Big Weekend and has seen hundreds of students visit the campus, she realizes even more the benefits of events like this.

"You're really getting to see college as it is," she said. "If you come for a tour, you don't always see it all. This way, you get to meet and talk to professors and get more of a real picture about what the university is about."

Beal said that's important because students want to know that the college they visit is the same place they'll attend and they haven't been sold a lie. She also said the interaction with current students is key.

"Just a chance to interact with people who are thinking along the same lines as you are is valuable. And being able to visit openly with students who are already here is good too," she said. "The organization fair was good because it gave me a chance to learn how I could get involved. College isn't just about head knowledge."

Since coming to Wayland, Beal has been active in many student organizations, served as a cheerleader for two years and now helps coach cheerleading. She was also voted Homecoming Queen in 2000. She is married to Michael Beal, a fellow Hobbs native and a 2000 Wayland graduate.