It’s called “Senior Walk,” and it’s one of the most well-known and unique traditions in the world of higher education. Since 1876, the names of every graduate of the University of Arkansas have been etched into stone, with nearly 150,000 names creating a walkway that spans the campus. Walk far enough down the nearly five-mile sidewalk, and you’ll come across the names of two members of the Aggie family: Scott and Diane McDonald.
The names of Scott, who is Texas A&M’s assistant vice president for academic services and director of admissions, and Diane, the university’s executive director of marketing & social media, appear four times on the walkway. The couple holds bachelor’s degrees in public administration, as well as a master’s of higher education administration for Scott and an MBA for Diane, all from Arkansas.
Scott and Diane’s shared passion for higher education brought their family to Texas A&M, but their story begins in Fayetteville, Ark.
Diane, a native of Hot Springs, Ark., visited the University of Arkansas as a high school student and knew immediately that she wanted to attend there. Scott was similarly drawn to the university, and coupled with the appeal of participating in the university’s marching band’s percussion section and the much cooler Arkansas weather, he too enrolled.
And it is there that the couple met: both were student ambassadors who regularly gave campus tours, and both were also members of the Razorback Marching Band. They married in 1996, after each of them had graduated, and have since had two children: a 13-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son.
The couple was living in Clarksville, Tenn., in 2006, both working at Austin Peay State University, when Scott was offered a position at Texas A&M. In addition to the move putting them closer to their families, the McDonalds were looking forward to learning about Texas A&M, a culture that was slightly familiar to them.
As members of the Razorback Marching Band, Scott and Diane traveled twice during their undergraduate careers to College Station, including the 1991 contest, which marked Arkansas’ last visit to Kyle Field before they departed for the Southeastern Conference.
“I was in awe of the 12th Man standing the entire game — and the band, the caliber of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band was just incredible,” Diane says. “And I remember how loud the stadium was. The unison of 12th Man doing the yells was amazing.”
Texas A&M was even more familiar to Scott, a native Texan who was raised in Arlington and Houston.
“Growing up in Texas, you knew that if someone had a degree from Texas A&M, they were using their degree to do great things,” he says.
Upon arriving in Aggieland six years ago, the couple was immediately welcomed into the Aggie family. They also have become avid fans of nearly every sport at Texas A&M, especially women’s basketball. The McDonalds have followed Coach Gary Blair’s successes over the years — he was the women’s basketball coach at Arkansas when they both were in school — and Diane even made a special trip to take the couple’s daughter to Indianapolis to see the Aggies win the national championship in 2011.
Scott and Diane’s positions at Texas A&M put each of them at the forefront of some of the university’s most critical areas.
In his role, Scott oversees recruitment, admissions and International Student Services with an amazing staff to assist him, he proudly says. And admissions is an area that continues to experience incredible growth at the university — for example, Scott says, when he arrived on campus in 2006, Texas A&M received nearly 20,000 applications for freshman admission. For fall 2012, that number was just over 30,000.
“Texas A&M is getting more and more competitive, and probably the hardest part of my job is that we have so many academically prepared students who want to attend Texas A&M,” he explains. “We have just so many more applicants than have seats in the freshman class.”
The admissions office is seeing increased numbers in applications, as well as an increase in students from the Southeast sending their SAT and ACT scores, adds Scott, and given the visibility that Texas A&M has experienced with its move to the SEC, it’s easy to see a correlation between the two.
Extending that visibility and continuing to grow the Texas A&M brand is Diane’s main objective. Diane manages the university’s academic marketing, including web, creative, traditional media and social media.
As a marketer and Arkansas alum, Diane has watched closely how the University of Arkansas’ visibility has steadily increased since they joined the SEC 20 years ago. And now that Texas A&M is in the same position, she’s looking forward to continuing to see Texas A&M’s national visibility rise as well.
“Texas A&M has already received a significant amount of PR from our move to the SEC, but we have many more stories to tell,” Diane says. “Texas A&M is having a tremendous impact on issues facing our community, state and nation.”
After a joint presentation the couple delivered at a national higher education conference a few years ago, the McDonalds discovered that the admissions offices and marketing teams at many of the nation’s universities often don’t work together.
“This was surprising to learn,” says Diane. “We believe that both of these groups should work together — and we do work together to tell the story of Texas A&M through joint projects.”
Though they admit to sometimes bouncing different ideas off one another, work doesn’t follow the couple home — in fact, much of the campus community doesn’t even realize that they are married, as the McDonalds treat one another as professionals while on the job.
The McDonalds’ earlier impressions of the Texas A&M have only strengthened further since their family has called Aggieland home.
“There is a true sense of family on this campus,” Diane says. “Now that we understand the traditions, we love them. And we’re so proud to be part of the future of this great university.
It’s a sentiment that Scott shares — and one that has his family cheering for both sides on during Saturday’s football game.
“We’re proud of both institutions, and not just by what they do on the playing field, but the reputation they have for educating students. I love my alma mater, but I’m also very proud to be an Aggie,” he says. “Whoever wins, the McDonalds win.”