August 18, 2016

Tony Perez

As a Welcome Week leader, Perez loves the hustle and bustle of moving students like Kelsi Auker, a freshman, into LaFollette Complex.

Lifting a large couch out of a tan truck, Welcome Week volunteer Tony Perez lends his strength and smile to a family from Osceola, a small Indiana town near South Bend.

Perez, a nursing major, finishes moving Kyle Cather into LaFollette Complex and then looks for the next family to serve. He spots members of the Auker family, who drove four hours from Evansville, quickly unloads their vehicle and, with fan and bags in hand, heads from the parking lot to Knotts Hall.

By now, Perez is a pro at welcoming people to Ball State. He started the summer by going through Orientation training, then served as an Orientation student leader for freshmen and their families.

Tony Perez

Perez and Cameron Cole, a junior, tag team to welcome Jordan Shanahan of Middletown, Indiana, as he settles into his overnight room in DeHority Complex during the two-day summer Orientation.

Then he turned around to do the same for the Aug. 12 transfer student orientation. And after two months of training and leading Orientation groups, when most would take a small vacation to catch their breath, Perez volunteered to help with Welcome Week Move-In.

His outgoing personality and passion for Ball State have made him a good fit with new students — and impressed his superiors.

“For Tony only being a sophomore, he’s really stepped it up as far as everything he’s done for us, starting with Orientation training,” said Abby Haworth, senior assistant director for the Office of Admissions and Orientation.“Welcome Week was something he volunteered for. We asked for additional help, and he was the first one to say ‘Yes, let me do it!’ So, I’m always impressed with his work.”

Perez may have blossomed early at Ball State, but his leadership ability has been growing for years.

He attended a Catholic high school in Aurora, Illinois, just west of Chicago, and developed leadership skills through a program that uses positive motivation to discourage alcohol, drug and tobacco use. He graduated with more than 1,000 volunteer hours, a deep sense of community and a passion for service that fits with his career path — nursing.

When looking for the right university, he knew he wanted a great nursing program and had older friends who came to Ball State. So he paid campus a visit, and that sealed the deal.

From freshman to leader

The next step on his path to becoming a campus ambassador for new students came in summer 2015. The enthusiasm of his Orientation leader, Jessi McNulty, a telecommunications major, inspired him. Knowing his social nature, his mother leaned over to him during that tour and said he should look into being a leader. Seeing similarities to his high school leadership program, Perez set a goal to follow in McNulty’s footsteps — including the backward ones required on campus tours.

“I think Tony is great because he’s an out-of-state student who didn’t grow up with Ball State around him. But at the same time, he has so much passion.”

— Abby Haworth
senior assistant director for the Office of Admissions and Orientation

Within the first weeks of Perez’s freshman year, he went through Greek rush and was inducted into Theta Chi fraternity, a chapter of about 70 men. They saw his outgoing personality and thought he’d be able to connect with students and represent the chapter well. That’s when he was approached to be social chairman — a position rarely held by a freshman — to be the social “face” of the fraternity. 

It was more work than he had expected, but the benefits were manifold.

“By being social chairman, it has helped me to network and make connections,” Perez said. “It gave me more of an opportunity to explore the campus and get to know more about Ball State in general.” 

This proved helpful when he joined 30 other students in two weeks of Orientation training. Most of the leaders were juniors and seniors, so he pulled from his experiences with his fraternity. His biggest fear? Not knowing enough about Ball State to answer some questions. It didn’t take long, though, for that concern to pass.

“I still had jitters that first day around,” Perez said, “but the training made me feel much more prepared.”

During the five weeks of summer Orientation, Perez not only gave the incoming students helpful information and led them on tours but also shared his love for the university and eased their anxieties about college.

Tony Perez

Getting to know his Orientation group outside Lucina Hall, Perez learns that Olivia Torres also is from the Chicago area, and they find similarities with Joseph Ritter, a Windy City native now living in Indianapolis.

“I think Tony is great because he’s an out-of-state student who didn’t grow up with Ball State around him. But at the same time, he has so much passion,” said Haworth, who oversaw him and the other leaders.

On the first night with each Orientation group, Perez would gather his group of 20-22 students for College 360, a roughly 30-minute discussion when students could ask anything about the transition from high school to college. Each time, Perez would take off his nametag as a symbol that they were talking peer-to-peer and they could trust him. He would ask each of them to name a hope and a fear.

“I could honestly see the stress and the fear come off their shoulders throughout it. Every time I wrapped up my College 360, we’d make a little circle. I’d ask if they felt better and if I did an OK job. They’d always say, ‘Absolutely.’ ”

That made it easy to rest on the summer nights he would return to DeHority Complex after each dawn-to-dusk workday.

Easing the transition

Perez knows from experience that freshman year is a learning curve, and his best advice is to keep absorbing information and stay connected. He’s constantly encouraging other students to get involved on campus. That may be Greek life, as he’s chosen, or it may be one of the hundreds of campus clubs or organizations. And he tells them to take some time to get to know Muncie.

Activity Fair

Want to learn about Ball State's more than 400 student organizations? Then come to the activity fair 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, in the Field Sports Building.

“I encourage them to get out and explore their home away from home.”

This week, as students move in, Perez is there as a welcoming face. And for most of the families, it’s a momentous and meaningful time.

Perez is part of Curt and Kim Cathers’ continuing tradition, even if all he’s actually carrying is a couch.

“It’s the next part of the journey,” Curt Cather said about their freshman son Kyle. “He’s the youngest. Our daughter just graduated college, so this is bittersweet. Both Kim and I are Ball State alums, so we’re excited for him to carry on the tradition.”

For Monica Auker, seeing her daughter Kelsi leave home to study premed is emotional.

“Oh, I’ve cried plenty. And it will happen again today. I still cry for my son, and he’s a junior,” said Auker.

But she said having Perez meet them upon arrival was a big help to unload and move Kelsi into her new home. And, she and her husband, Lee, could tell he was enjoying doing it.

“It’s just nice to have people available and to give us guidance,” Monica Auker said. “It makes it a smoother transition.”