A new (and expanded) supporting cast for Lawrentians

It’s September again.

(As if you didn’t know that already.)

To get the year kicked off properly, we could playfully link to a certain Earth, Wind and Fire song like we did last year at this time (you’re welcome) before cutting to the chase of yet another ritual that seems to be the job of admissions folks: trumpeting the virtues of our class of newest students while slyly promoting the virtues of our own institution.

We’ll let our new student profile do that job for us. Suffice it to say, like generations of Lawrentians before them, they’re delightful, talented, driven, and eager to meet the challenges you would expect from one of the Colleges That Change Lives.

(See what we did there?)

Speaking of meeting challenges, our newest Lawrentians will have even more supporters than they usually do with the addition of four new colleagues, three of them in brand-new positions at Lawrence:

Kimberly Barrett, our new Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Dean of the Faculty (yes, she has one of the longest titles on campus), will be working “to promote learning, student development, social justice, and diversity” among students, faculty, and staff at Lawrence University as well as in the greater Appleton area.

Linda Morgan-Clement, our new Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, officially joins the Lawrence community this week to provide spiritual leadership, foster religious sensitivity, and connect the Lawrence community through campus ceremonies, religious traditions, interfaith services and celebrations.

Monita Mohammadian Gray, our new Dean for Academic Success, rejoins Lawrence to lead our brand-new Center for Academic Success, dedicated to helping Lawrentians thrive in their academic lives and reach their full potential in their lives at and after Lawrence. If her name looks familiar to you, it’s because she was an admission officer for Lawrence from 1996 through 2005. (We’re thrilled to have her back!)

Christyn Abaray, our Director of Athletics, has been at Lawrence since the spring term last year, so this is the start of her first full academic year in the role. A former D-III All-American student athlete herself, Christyn is working to ensure that our student athletes experience success in academics and competition.





All the Tools for Success Under One Roof

Kate Frost is one of Lawrence’s Associate Deans of Academic Services. She works with students in a variety of capacities – from transitioning to college, to facing challenges, to life After Lawrence – to ensure their college experience is a meaningful and productive one. She wrote this post for us in 2014, but it has such good, timeless stuff in it that we want to share it with you again.

(You can learn more about the Center for Academic Success and other services it provides here.)

“The first few weeks of my freshman year were awful,” a student recently told me.  “I came into college feeling relatively confident about my ability to be successful because I’d done really well in high school.  I was at the top of my class.  But then I failed my first calculus quiz.  And I just started to unravel.”

In the Center for Academic Success, stories like this are not uncommon.  Facing challenge can be especially difficult for incoming students, many of whom have experienced high levels of success in the past.  Struggle can feel like failure.  And failure can make us feel like we are unraveling.

Like my colleagues, I understand that students are much more complex than a quiz score or even a GPA.  Students need different kinds of support in order to reach their academic goals.  They need choices.  And it helps if those choices are easy to find and easy to access.

We recently reorganized our entire center with this in mind.  The Center for Academic Success is now the home to all of the following, all in one place!

Tutoring.  Peer tutoring has been a strong part of what we do for many, many years.  About 80% of our students will have utilized the services of a tutor during their time at Lawrence, which says a great deal about the quality of the peer tutors we employ (and we employ over 200 of them!)  The culture here enforces the idea that tutoring is not just for students who are struggling.  Students at Lawrence understand that there is wisdom in strengthening skills at any level.

Academic Accommodations/Accessibility Services.  We recently added a new coordinator position that focuses almost exclusively on providing accommodations/accessibility services.  We understand that having the appropriate support in place, in and out of the classroom, can make all the difference for students who have physical or sensory limitations, attention or cognitive processing deficits, learning disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions.  .

Academic Skills Building.  We offer workshops and individual sessions on academic skills like time management, organization, critical reading, note-taking, effective study and exam preparation.  We also provide online tools which are available to students at any time.

Academic Counseling.  Sometimes students are feeling challenged but need help unpacking the problem.  One-on-one academic counseling allows us to understand a student’s experience more deeply in order to help them find the resources that would be most useful.  We provide cognitive and affective strategies that allow students to develop coping strategies they can continue to use in the future.  We also suggest other resources on campus that might be helpful to students.

Success Course.  We offer a for-credit, discussion-based course called Investigating Academic Success:  Cognitive and Affective theories in practice in which we provide more in depth analyses of current, evidence-based success theory.  Students then have opportunities to apply those theories to their own lives.  Emphasis is on self-awareness, effective problem solving, increasing motivation, development of appropriate coping strategies, and lifelong learning.  Students tell us the course increases their resiliency by giving them better strategies to use when they face challenges.

English as a Second Language.  ESL courses are offered each term to support students’ study at Lawrence.  A limited number of directed study and tutorial courses are also available for students interesting in pursuing a specific goal in a one-on-one or small group class.  The Center also provides ESL tutoring for students seeking assistance with their English language skills.

We even also have a lounge, a lending library, and a computer lab available for students!

I asked that student who felt she started to unravel freshman year what advice she would give a new first year student now that she has been here a while.

“Don’t wait to get the help.  I’m not kidding!  I had no idea so much help was available here.  When you feel the first thread start to come loose, head over!”

Kate Frost
Associate Dean of Academic Services

Hats and Scorecards

In the “other duties assigned” part of my job description is a bullet point that says, “Human Hat Rack.”

I think it refers to the multiple roles that we are all called to play in our roles as college admission professionals.

One hour we’re wearing counselor hats, helping students make good decisions about college fit, the next we’re wearing the IT, trouble-shooting our computers. (“Let’s see… if I smack it right here, will that fix it?”)

Sometimes I’m wearing one of those old-timey hats with a “Press” card in the hatband, called into service as an investigative reporter, like when I’m responding to a well-meaning friend, faculty member, trustee, or parent who has forwarded to me an article with an attention-grabbing (i.e., click-inducing/ad-revenue-generating) headline like “Liberal Arts College Graduates Make Less Money Than Your Neighbor’s Dog” or “Child Inventor of Cold Fusion Denied Admission To Top Choice College.”

You’re familiar with these stories. They’re the ones that build a sensational narrative out of a handful of facts without providing the fuller context that might make the story more informative—while simultaneously making it less newsworthy.

Such was—and continues to be—the case with stories that use the College Scorecard as their reference point. The Scorecard is a treasure trove of data, but without fully considering the context, these data can be misused, leading people to faulty conclusions. And when journalists use the data selectively to tell incomplete stories, the effect multiplies.

I saw the effect when a friend of mine sent me a link to a Scorecard-inspired Wall Street Journal article with the headline Student Debt Payback Lags.

He expressed worry about college grads in general and Lawrence graduates in particular.

I assured him that the good news was that Lawrentians who graduate with debt fare pretty well: 96% are repaying after 7 years, one of the scorecard benchmarks. (Our performance, however, pales in comparison to the assiduous graduates of Moler Barber College of Hair Styling and the International Yacht Restoration School, who are at 100%.)

We’ll often see breathlessly written—and breathtaking—articles focusing on $1.2-trillion in debt held by college attendees, not all of whom are graduates. These stories, too, often fail to contextualize who is carrying the debt, lumping together an entire sector without accounting for the differences in non-profit vs. for-profit, or undergraduate vs. graduate or professional schools.

As admission practitioners, we understand that the world of data associated with higher education is more nuanced—and we also have a responsibility to help those we serve (students, families, institutional stakeholders, etc.) understand those nuances.

Even with the College Scorecard itself, we need to help families avoid falling into the seductively simple conclusions that are so easy to draw from the sleek, attractive, government-developed website. The Fed claims not to have developed a ratings system—despite previous pronouncements that they wanted to try. What they have done instead is drop the resources onto families to allow them to do the rankings themselves.

Users need to keep in mind some of the data and assumptions behind the Scorecard. For example:

  • By focusing so sharply on earnings, the Scorecard seems to have reduced colleges’ primary function to creating salary-earning loan repayers. There is nothing in the Scorecard that addresses the other, more difficult-to-measure values that a college education offers, or the qualities of mind that some colleges have as their educational mission.
  • The student dataset is limited only to those students who receive federal student aid, which means there is, for many colleges, a very large number of students whose results never get included.
  • Notably absent: how many alumni go to graduate or professional school.
  • Also missing is a consideration of the type of work a college’s graduates do. If a school disproportionately sends grads into lower-paying careers, like education or non-profit work, it is going to be more of an under-performer using these metrics.

We could argue that the College Scorecard itself is a great case in point about why a liberal arts education is so important: it teaches you how to ask questions about data, and challenge how they are interpreted and used. (I suppose I just did.)

I will now remove my philosopher’s hat, and put on my chauffeur hat. I have to go pick up some prospective students from the airport.

Framework for a more inclusive Lawrence

Founded in 1847 as an institution open to men and women of immigrant and indigenous backgrounds, Lawrence has, from the beginning, been a forward-thinking place focused on creating a welcome and supportive community for all of its students to thrive and succeed.

We have learned, however, that—despite that auspicious start—Lawrence still has more work to do so all members of the Lawrence family feel equally at home in our intellectual community.

Like we have seen at many colleges around the country this academic year, the Lawrence community has been engaged in broad-ranging, deep and often intense conversations about race on campus.

At the end of November, right before the end of fall term, a group of students met with President Mark Burstein and our dean of students, to express their own experiences, anger, and frustrations, as well as a letter of demands and concerns for the institution, many of which are thematically similar to what we are seeing on other campuses across the country, but more pertinent to the Lawrence community and its needs.

Broadly, our students—in line with our faculty and staff—are seeking a more inclusive and racially sensitive campus climate, and a commitment from the administration to acknowledge our shortcomings on that front while addressing proactively changes to our campus culture. Many of the demands parallel projects and initiatives that different parts of the institution have been working on for some time.

However, as the president stated in a letter to the community right before students returned from break: “A defining goal for Lawrence and certainly for me is to create a learning environment in which all students, as well as faculty and staff, can thrive. This fall’s events indicate that we have not moved quickly enough towards this goal.”

Right before we returned from the winter break, President Burstein shared with the Lawrence community a “Framework for a More Inclusive Lawrence,” which resulted from the work of shared governance among students, faculty and staff in the five weeks since the fall term had ended. The framework focuses on five principal areas that will be the focus for our efforts in the coming months:

  • Learning
    • Broaden our Ethnic Studies program to include a new emphasis on the African American experience, and to free current resources to teach additional courses in Native culture and American Latino/Latina literature;
    • An assessment of the selection of works for inclusion in Freshman Studies, the foundation of the Lawrence intellectual experience;
    • Ongoing diversity and inclusion training and workshops for all employees and students;
  • Resources
    • Coinciding with a recommendation from our 2010 Strategic Plan, we will hire an additional staff person to support our Assistant Dean of Multicultural Affairs;
    • Explore new locations for our Diversity Center;
    • Hire an Associate Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion;
    • Increase need-based financial aid support for study abroad, which had already been approved by our board of trustees and administration;
  • Safety
    • Develop a bias-incident reporting capability to our current student safety app.
    • Develop clearer and smoother grievance procedures;
    • Coordinate with the City of Appleton—mayor’s office and police department—to ensure that bias-related incidents that occur in near- or off-campus areas are fully investigated;
  • Enhanced Diversity
    • Increase the diversity of our faculty and staff at Lawrence, which has already been fully underway. In 2013 and 2014, 8% of new hires were employees of color. In 2015, 28% of new hires were employees of color. We have already made substantial progress with gender diversity;
    • Ensure a broader representation in our Board of Trustees and Alumni Association Board;
    • Recruit and retain a diverse student population. The past ten years have seen the most significant sustained growth in enrollment of students of color in our history, but there is more work to do;
  • Dialogue Across Difference
    • Engage with organizations like The Sustained Dialogue Institute, to help us further foster an environment where students, faculty, and staff can safely and constructively explore uncomfortable and controversial subject matter together.

For three hours on Thursday evening, January 7, we held a community gathering in the Warch Campus Center with ten information stations staffed by members of the Lawrence community responsible for managing these initiatives, much like a college fair. Attendance was extraordinary as students, faculty, and staff moved from station to station asking questions, posing challenges, sparking ideas, critically problem-solving.

Media were not permitted to attend the event, as this is a matter we wanted to discuss first “among the family of Lawrentians” without the distraction of lights and cameras. We did, however, invite them in after the event was completed, so they could conduct interviews and continue their reporting on the issue. Below are links to three of the stories—one newspaper, two television—that ran January 8.

LU Campus Responds to Inclusion Plans (Post-Crescent Media)

Lawrence University students attend fair on diversity initiatives (WBAY ABC 2)

Lawrence University continues conversation on diversity (WLUK Fox 11 News)

We know we have much work to do. But with so many members of the Lawrence community committed to accelerating this important work, we know we will evolve through this process into an even better Lawrence.

We are putting the finishing touches on a new Diversity & Inclusion website that will launch next week, which will include resources for the Lawrence community and those who wish to learn more about our history and our future as it pertains to this important issue.

Breathing, doing the laundry, and other things you hope your Lawrentian will remember to do

I am a recent LU grad (June 2013, which was like yesterday, right?) AND a first year Admissions Counselor. So, in many ways, I was right there with many of you trying to figure out the completely daunting world of college admissions for the first time.

One of the true joys of the job thus far is connecting one on one with families and helping unpack this process. I talked through stats, available majors/minors, extra-curricular opportunities and the omnipresent Return on Investment question. But in all these conversations it became very clear what the true question behind all these inquiries was: “Will they be happy here?”

This realization brought some clarity to my understanding of our work in college admissions: our purpose is to make answering that one question as easy and transparent as possible. We like to think we do a pretty good job, but let’s face it – we’re biased. So we decided to ask the real experts—the parents of the Class of 2018. Here are some highlights from the survey we sent out earlier this summer to all the class of 2018 parents (speaking of Class of 2018 Parents, be sure to check out their Facebook page if you haven’t already):

What did you enjoy about the college search process?

  • Getting to know our kid better. Seriously. He was much more thoughtful than I had originally given him credit for. AND much more of a procrastinator than I had ever thought!
  • Thinking about all the possibilities. Road trips.
  • Observing my daughter’s confidence and excitement build as she learned about all the opportunities for learning and new experiences she will have available to her in college.
  • Enjoy?
  • [Many of you mentioned liking our e-mails; that should make our Benevolent Communications Overlord/Dean very happy.]

We all hope for the best… about what are you most hopeful for your student at Lawrence?

  • I hope that she will find her place, find a circle of friends, find what she loves, find where she fits.
  • That she’ll find community with faculty and students who lead passionate, inspired lives that she will learn to think radically and critically, and that she will grow as an individual and make connections she has yet to consider.
  • That when she looks back 10 years from now, she’ll feel Lawrence truly helped her grow as a citizen of this world and prepare for a successful and happy life.
  • Frankly, I hope that he remembers to do laundry.

What are you nervous about?

  • Nothing.
  • The unknown.
  • I am extremely nervous that we are spending thousands of dollars for his education and he will not be able to find a job in the field he is looking for. [You may feel better knowing that students will meet early and often with our advisors in Career Services, just upstairs from us in Hurvis Center.]
  • The distance from home and all the “ifs” that parents can imagine when the kids go away. Too many to list and not necessarily relevant, but nevertheless natural.
  • That she will forget to breathe and remember that everything will be okay and that she can handle anything.
  • He will be fine… I’m nervous about me : )

What is your favorite thing about Lawrence?

  • All the small liberal arts colleges that our son applied to (he got accepted at all 8) shared similar academic rigor and extracurricular opportunity but only Lawrence had a “think different” sort of culture. One that seems dynamic and fluid and especially conducive to intellectual thought and growth. And come on, who else wanted a 47 word essay?! ; ) That was genius!!
  • The warm, inviting atmosphere you experience when you are on campus.  You feel it from students, faculty, and administration – everywhere you go.  It feels like one big family.  You can’t fake that.
  • This question is impossible for me to answer. At every stage of the process, from inception to date, I’ve had an ADDITIONAL favorite thing about Lawrence. However, if I had to sum up, then I would answer that Lawrence in every respect has given me the most valuable reassurance, even peace, as a parent that I’m sending my only child to the best place for the next critical phase of her life.
  • Perhaps its quirkiness – that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. Our daughter is like that.
  • Zeek!
  • The food!

I suppose it should come as no surprise that our LU parents are as thoughtful and perceptive as their students (and no, we didn’t offer scholarships for best flattery—IHRTLUHC). We truly appreciate you sharing your stories, and we look forward to having the class of 2018—and their awesome parents—on campus this September!

Keep doing well and being well, as we know you always do.

Patrick Marschke (’13), Conservatory Admissions Counselor