Taylor Blair is Director of Orientation and Outreach at UK. He is building strong, authentic communities through virtual and in-person experiences that make students excited to come to UK and build meaningful connections. We recently sat down with Taylor to learn about his experience at UK and what philanthropy means to him.
Tell us a little bit about your experience at UK, what your job is and how you got to this point.
I was a secondary English education major at UK and fell in love with the program after I had the opportunity to do some tutoring at Henry Clay High School here in Lexington. I loved that so much that I found education was going to be a much better fit for me than Marketing, which is where I had started. I graduated from the College of Education in December 2013. I got to speak at commencement at Memorial Coliseum and it was a lot of fun.
While I thought I was going to be graduating and moving into teaching in a master’s program at UK, I ended up finding a love for the admissions side of things. After being a tour guide, a UK 101 peer instructor and a K Book editorial board member, I found that admissions was going to be a good way to stay connected with that “high school senior, first year” experience. I was in the admissions office for just a few months beginning in 2014 when the position to be the director of Visitor Center opened up. I was brought into the Visitor Center in 2014 and held the role as director until February 2020. I would say that will always be the best job I’ve ever had because it gave me the experience to meet high school students, to mentor current students at UK, and to help them learn skills like professionalism and leadership and authenticity, which we spend a lot of time on in the Visitor Center, and we want our tour guides to understand.
I’m currently the Director of Orientation and Outreach, so I manage Big Blue Nation orientation programs, Merit Weekends, and all our new student orientation. I also serve as co-director of our Kentucky Science Olympiad Office.
If you had to pick just one, what is your favorite memory at UK?
My favorite memory is the staff meetings we had while I was working at the Visitor Center. The tour guides I got to work with would tell you I looked like a really geeky, proud dad at the start of every semester. I hadn’t seen them for several months and having 50-60 tour guides all together at once was so exciting. I was always stressed heading into the staff meetings, but once I got the opportunity to see them all there, it was a great reminder of why I loved the job and why I loved hosting families for tours.
How do you think donors have impacted students at UK?
Many of the students I get to work with are still making the decision on whether they’re going to come to UK. Many of them end up sharing that it was a scholarship or series of scholarships or financial aid that helped make UK possible. Without the support of donors, I would not have the opportunity to meet them along the way and orient them to UK. I wouldn’t get to teach them in the UK 101 courses that I love teaching.
As part of enrollment management, we have really aspirational goals for our enrollment. It takes the help of the individual donors and organizations that support our institutional mission to bring in so many of those students.
When I think of my own experience, I received scholarships that weren’t just institutional scholarships awarded by UK. They were namesake scholarships provided by a donor that gave me the opportunity to come here. Without those scholarships, I wouldn’t have come to UK as a student, I wouldn’t have ended up working at UK, or met my wife here at UK. The generosity of donors touch so many of the students I get to work with and have touched my experience too.
Tell us a little more about your current role at UK.
Now, I work with orientations. I’ve been in this job for about 12 months. I help orient students to UK who, for many of them, wouldn’t have had the opportunity to set foot on campus as part of their orientation experience. A lot of the work I’m doing is building out an orientation model that’s a virtual experience that we still can build into as a robust and authentic experience so students can participate from their own homes and still want to come to UK.
One of the things we’ve learned over the past year is we really want to build community. How do we get them to connect with each other in really impactful ways? They could go through the advising process and course registration, but if they don’t get to meet other students, then it’s a wasted effort. We want them start building those connections with other students right away.