Category Archives: Admissions

Try Everything

I’ve been in admissions for nearly 20 years and in my current role for over half that time. At a recent scholarship dinner, a parent asked me what I like to do for fun. My response was simple. I have a five-year-old daughter and my time away from work pretty much revolves around however she’d like to spend time together as a family.

Needless to say, there are a lot of animated movies and shows in my world. I couldn’t name five movies featuring live actors, but I’m up on my characters and theme songs from dozens of animated shows and films, not to mention hours of Pandora kids music.

So, let’s talk about Zootopia. Honestly, the movie was not my favorite, but that theme song. If The Office of Admissions had a theme song, this would be it!

I won’t give up, no I won’t give in

Till I reach the end

And then I’ll start again

Though I’m on the lead

I wanna try everything

I wanna try even though I could fail

It’s almost as if Shakira works in higher education! Most of the work we do in admissions is the same from year to year. It’s one big circle—get to the end, start again. On our team we are constantly assessing what works, what doesn’t, what we should try again—or not. Some people could view this as a drag, but really, it’s not. Every year, we get a clean slate. We get to try new things. Different things. Better things. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. The point is, we try everything. Even though we could fail.

My staff and I talk a lot about the power of failing and the benefit of failing forward—taking what could be a negative experience and learning from it to improve for the next time. We are fortunate to have upper administration who allow us to experiment and take risks. They know everything might not work, but they trust us to learn and change course if we need to.

Sometimes we know what works and sometimes we’re the little bunny with big dreams. The important thing is we try everything—at least once—and know that if it fails, it’s okay. There’s always next year to start again.


The Benefits of Maternity Leave

This is not a post about female empowerment or the benefits of having benefits. I’m talking about the benefits to a supervisor when a staff member announces they will be going on maternity leave.

You read that correctly. I’ve come to realize there are huge benefits to staff taking planned leave for six weeks or more. Especially if they play a vital role to your office structure and love their job.

Okay, I know you’re thinking I’ve officially lost my mind.

Here’s the thing. My assistant director is preparing for her upcoming leave. In all honesty, she’s my right hand (and half my brain), so how could I possibly feel this way? Think about it. Planning. Organizing. Catching up! After all, she’s known for over eight months this day was coming. Rather than sit back and count down the weeks, she took full advantage of planning for her maternity leave by creating the most amazing documentation of her key responsibilities. I’m talking about things only she knows she does. And now, we have pages and pages of step-by-step, up-to-date, detailed documentation on how to do all of it. Everything!

If I had anxiety about her being away for eight weeks, it ebbed substantially after sitting down with her to review her maternity leave plan—specifically, the tasks I’ll be responsible for in her absence. She created a series of linked documents in Google Drive, so everyone on our team has access.

I always knew my assistant director was detail oriented, but wow. I mean, WOW! This process was a great learning experience for everyone in the office. She summarized her main responsibilities and was able to review her processes to ensure accuracy. Everyone taking over parts of her job for the upcoming months now knows exactly what to do and when and how to do it. Plus, I got to see how much she truly cares about her work and responsibilities. We all feel comfortable with her leaving because she’s prepared us so well. We all have good intentions of creating documentation, but sometimes we need a kick (from the inside or out) to get us going.

Defining Boundaries

If you’re a fan of the sitcom Seinfeld, you likely remember the close talker episode. Google it if you have no idea what I’m talking about—it’s a good time and well worth 2.5 minutes of your day.

As professionals, most of us have a good understanding of personal space and social awareness. If you work in admissions and have ever done a college fair, you have your table to thank for a built-in boundary.

But how do you define virtual boundaries? Every year there seems to be that one parent who just won’t leave you alone. The emails keep coming with question after question. If you’re good at your job and love what you do, you probably write back without thinking a thing about it.

Our role in higher education, especially in recruitment, is to help students (and parents) grow and develop skills they need to succeed in life. If you’re continually feeding them the answers they need, why should they do any research or (heaven forbid) read the material you send in the mail, when they can whip off an email or text to you and get an instant reply?

If you realize a parent or student may be taking advantage of your strong work ethic and good upbringing, it may be time to disengage. Try these ideas to help foster independence

  • Refer to the appropriate office or staff member who can provide the best and most accurate information
  • Shorten communications and cover only the essentials—don’t ask about their day, or the outcome of the recent vet visit they shared with you last week
  • Reply to email, voicemail, or texts only when a question is asked that you can help with—forward messages to colleagues to assist with other issues
  • Close emails without the offer of being able to “help with any other questions you have!”

Unsure what to do next? Talk to your supervisor or mentor for other suggestions or encouragement. Breaking up is hard to do, but you can do it!

Building Your Dream Team

This summer, I find myself in the blissful position of having a full staff. After a recent hire, a colleague at a competitor institution commented, “You’re so lucky…you have the admissions dream team in the state.” As the director of admissions, I never set out to create a dream team. But I know I have one. They are an amazing staff of dedicated and passionate professionals. Dream team is right, but luck had nothing to do with it.

Know what you want – For years, we thought we needed young alumni to serve as ambassadors for the University. After all, they have enthusiasm for the institution and can talk the talk of current students. While there is value in that, what I’ve found is that experience and passion for the profession is more valuable. Out of a staff of 8 regionally-based admissions managers, they all have two things in common. First, not one is a Tech grad. Second, they all had previous professional experience in admissions or higher education before joining our team. They love what they do and have come to love Michigan Tech in the process. So much so, that you’d never know they aren’t alumni.

Involve your current staff – When you find yourself having to post a position, ask your staff if they know others who would be a good fit for the team. After all, people generally like to work with people who have similar values and drive. Include staff in the interview process and ask for feedback. On our team, our staff not only work well together, they genuinely like each other! The synergy that comes from this is more powerful than a month of training (the wrong person).

Don’t settle – Make a pledge to yourself that you will not hire someone simply to fill a position. Go on. Find a viewbook for your left hand, raise your right, and do it. I’ll wait. Good for you! Several years ago, we made a decision to no longer settle. We would find the right person or we wouldn’t hire anyone. Even if that meant changing our business practice and redistributing the workload in the interim. I’ve also learned to trust my instincts—if there’s a red flag or an “I don’t know…” feeling about a candidate, think long and hard about why. Ask yourself if that person truly is the right fit for the team. If not, move on. Wait. Repost. The right person will come along and you’ll know who it is when you meet them.

I’ve learned through 18-years of work in admissions that others take notice of who serves as the face of Michigan Tech. For good and bad. I’m privileged to have leadership that supports my views and encourages the right hire. Our president is a strong proponent of Jim Collins’ view to get the right people on the right seats in the bus. Or in my case, the right driver for an SUV loaded with recruitment publications.

Everything I need to know about recruitment, I learned at a flea market

In my past life, I owned and operated a flea market. I had a booth of treasures, sold popcorn and ice cream, performed magic tricks, and met a lot of interesting people. Maybe I didn’t learn everything about recruitment during this time, but looking back, there are a lot of skills applicable to undergraduate recruitment.

Be honest

Whether you’re selling leaky buckets or repaired inflatable swim toys, to the right person, there’s value in these items. Being honest goes a long way. It’s the same with higher education. Michigan Tech is far away, snowy for most of the time students are on campus, it’s hard, and it’s expensive. Be honest and show the value in what most see as hurdles. “We get a lot of snow and our students love that they get to ski every day, or try something new like snowshoeing.” Tell a story. Help them picture themselves at your institution. Continue reading

Best Visit Ever

“Thank you – Best Visit Ever” was the subject line in an email I recently received from a parent. The mother went on to write that the son they visited Michigan Tech with is the youngest of four children, and as such they had attended over a dozen campus visits at other colleges in multiple states. “We were so impressed with so many things.”

She called out the fact that I personally drove them in a van for our upper campus tour (we had overflow that day and it was all hands on deck). Their student tour guides were friendly and informed. At lunch in the residence halls, a staff member overheard her comment about her dietary restrictions and went “above and beyond” to explain the options available for her in the dining hall. “And if this was not enough, our ONE ON ONE (!!) department visit [with faculty] was amazing!” Continue reading

Build It. They Will Come

Attracting high school females to computing majors isn’t easy. If it was, we wouldn’t need national initiatives to solve the problem. At Michigan Technological University, we’ve been trying to crack this nut (er…code) for a few years through targeted communications, name buys, and information sessions.

Thanks to a grant from the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT), we were challenged to rethink our strategy. Rather than tell young women about careers in computing, how do we show them what they can do with computing?

It’s simple really. Build it.

Build code. Build a circuit board. Build a robot. Build an on-campus program. Continue reading

Putting the Pieces Together

Undergraduate recruitment is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Fun, challenging, frustrating, and gratifying when all the pieces come together. The only problem with the recruitment puzzle is that the final picture isn’t always clear. Here at Michigan Tech, we have several directives: recruit smarter students, more students, more female students, more students interested in STEM, more non-STEM students, more diverse students.

Despite all of this—or perhaps because of it—we welcomed the largest incoming class this fall since 2008. In addition, we had the highest number of applications in University history, the highest number of applications from female and minority students, and enrolled the highest percentage of female students in the incoming class in Tech’s history (28% if you’re curious; up from 19% in 2005). Continue reading