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

Purple bedding, college roommates, and the big good-bye

Authored by Carin Smith, Lawrence University admissions Supermom. (Editor’s note: Carin would never call herself “Supermom.” But her colleague–and aforementioned editor–does.)

As I write this, new college students are learning who their roommates will be and where they will be living this fall.

Before that reality sinks in, let’s press “pause” and savor this moment. Do you remember where you were last year at this time in the college search process with your child? Think about where you are now. If you’re like most parents of college-bound students, you’ve come a long way in 12 months, and, for that, I encourage you wholeheartedly to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!

I also encourage you wholeheartedly to savor these last few weeks of having your child at home with you before officially crossing that threshold to being a full-fledged College Student. (It’s such a big deal it needs capital letters.)

Back to reality.

Last summer I received an unusual number of phone calls from parents around this time. They were calling about their child’s roommate, or room assignment, or something else all together:

  • “My son has never shared a room before and his assigned roommate isn’t responding to his email messages so they can start to get to know each other. I think he needs to be re-assigned – before school even starts.”
  • “My son is an athlete, and as best we can figure out none of his teammates are living on his floor. I’m quite certain he’s going to feel very isolated.”
  • “My daughter’s roommate is arriving at school by herself, from the west coast, which means my spouse and I will not be able to meet her parents and make sure we feel comfortable with them.”
  • And my all-time favorite: “My daughter has already purchased purple bedding (purple has been her favorite color since she was 2-years old) and her roommate seems to think gray is an acceptable color for dorm décor. I’m concerned this could be problematic for my child.”

Reflecting on these concerns, I think these parents may have been less concerned about email messages and purple bedding than they were about the reality that was rapidly bearing down on them: their kids were going off to school. They were no longer going to be under the same roof anymore.

As someone who has now gone through this exercise twice, and is currently going through it again, I like to think that maybe I have some wisdom to share to provide a little comfort. Like I did for those parents, I’ll share this with you:

As a Division I athlete, my oldest daughter not only had no say in who her roommate was nor where she would live, she was required to report to school (and stay there!) 5 weeks after she graduated from high school! Her roommate was one of her teammates, someone who came from a very different family, cultural and socioeconomic background. The first couple weeks were an adjustment, but pretty quickly they bonded over surviving the demands of D1 athletics and their irrational fear of spiders.

My son went through the more typical process of filing housing forms and waiting to see who he would be living with only to discover that his “randomly-assigned” roommate was a boy who attended our church and the other high school in our town. I’ll admit to being fairly disappointed by this since his school of choice was 4 hours away, in a different state, with a fairly diverse student body and this is what happens?! They survived just fine and I quickly realized that I should have been far more concerned by the fact that every freshman boy (400+) was housed in one massive residence hall. Drop off day was the last time I was ever able to bring myself to walk beyond the front lobby, where even there the odor was “eau de locker room.”

Number 3 is headed off to school this fall and informed me in April that she was pretty sure she had identified a roommate. (I was shocked!) Her school of choice is 5 hours away, geographically diverse and she does not know any other new students attending this fall. “How did this happen?” You guessed it: social media. Not only had they found each other, asked and answered some questions that they felt gave them enough information about each other to believe they can successfully co-exist their first year, but had already made plans to meet for coffee, both by taking the train to a destination in the middle and about an hour away from each house.

I asked my daughter, “What was the key question and answer that sealed the deal on this?”

“She has a dog that she loves, and will miss every bit as much as me. And seriously mom, we don’t have to be best friends, we just have to peacefully co-exist!”

The moral of these stories? They all ended up working out, each in their own way—and they were all beyond my control—something I don’t easily let go.

I am a firm believer that college is about much more than classroom learning; it’s about problem-solving, trying new things (and sometimes failing), pushing outside your comfort zone and helping to build your new community.

(PS: this works for parents as much as it does for students.)

Whether your child has chosen to attend a residential college like Lawrence, where we require students to live on-campus for all 4 years, or a school with a looser residential requirement, that physical space in your home that they now inhabit is going to change—for them and for you.

So if you find yourself confronting housing issues, before calling your college, I would strongly encourage parents to spend time this summer taking care of some very important checklist items:

  1. Enjoy time with your child
  2. Teach them how to do laundry (if they don’t already know how to do this).
  3. Make sure they can successfully set an alarm (probably on their phone).
  4. Make sure they can successfully get out of bed when said alarm goes off.
  5. Remind them to regularly check their email (since that’s how professors will be contacting them) even though it’s not their go-to form of communication.
  6. Help them know how to “rationally” get a spider off the ceiling of their dorm room. (Hint: a hysterical call home isn’t going to do the trick.)
  7. Enjoy time with your child (So important it’s worth a second mention.)

Happy summer!

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.

The waiting… ugh, the WAITING!

You’ve probably caught on by now that there is a LOT of waiting in the college admission process:

  1. Colleges (and parents) waiting for students to submit applications.
  2. Students (and parents) waiting for schools to respond with offers of admission.
  3. And now, colleges (and parents) waiting for students to make a final college selection.

As impatiently as you may have been waiting for “the big envelope” from us, we now find ourselves on pins and needles (where does that oh-so-appropriate metaphor come from?) wondering which admitted students will respond with the great news that they will be enrolling at our schools.

If you’ve read the previous “Mom blogs” you know that I have three kids—two who have already gone through this process and a third going through it right now as a senior in high school. As the older two approached their final college selection decisions in the spring of their senior years, I experienced some combination of the following, sometimes all at once:

Part of me was anxious to see what their final decision would be… their seeming lack of urgency with this decision helped stoke this particular fire. (See “impatience” below.)

I found many moments (often while folding their laundry or tripping over sports equipment left in the middle of the hallway) when I wondered how much my heart would ache when they finally did leave. Didn’t I just read them bedtime stories last night?

I also discovered that during spring of their senior years these wonderful budding adults became, I’ll admit, a bit insufferable. I knew—at least intellectually—their moodiness and/or ambivalence might have been a response to their own concern about their final college decisions and all the emotion wrapped up with high school ending. But, really, I think we all had short fuses in those last weeks leading up to decision day.

I worried – too much – about whether they would make the “wisest” decision possible. (Translation: would they make the decision I thought would be wisest for them?)

I also learned that I have to follow the same advice that I’ve been giving to parents of college-bound kids for years: it’s not all about you. (It sounds really nice when I give that advice, but it stinks when I have to follow it myself.) Although I knew each of my kids would ultimately make a selection, I quickly discovered that their decision-making methods were very different from each other—and certainly quite different from mine.

My oldest daughter? A methodical list-maker, she devised a 5-point, multiple-category rating system to score each of her schools. It made perfect sense to her, but she didn’t share the results with anyone in our family for several weeks. It needed to settle in her mind before she shared it with anybody else. I was standing in the grocery store checkout line when she called me to “reveal” her decision – I will never forget it, and I presume neither will the checkout clerk, who might have been a bit surprised when I burst into tears for no apparent reason.

My son? Where his older sister trusted “data,” he embraced his inner Obi-Wan Kenobi and trusted “his feelings.” We made return visits to his top three colleges. (This was, if I’m being honest, at my insistence). It was a less scientific process, and the factors he considered were far more superfluous than I thought appropriate:

  • One return visit involved a 5-hour drive (one way) and resulted in a 2-block walk, on our way to the admissions office, at which point he turned to me and said, “This isn’t the one, Mom.” (A FIVE-HOUR DRIVE… PLUS TWO BLOCKS?!) This may come as a shock, but I’m a bit stubborn, which is why I demanded that he go through all the activities the admissions office had so carefully planned for him. (In hindsight, we should have trusted his feelings and gotten back in the car. His feelings were right.)
  • Another visit revealed that the campus was really WAY too close to the stadiums of professional sports teams that were arch rivals of the Chicago sports teams he had grown up rooting for. “Mom, I don’t think I could spend 4 years surrounded by the crazies that cheer for these teams.” My head almost flew right off my body when I heard this one. But his feelings were right.
  • At last, it was the third visit (why couldn’t it have been the first one?) that confirmed itself as “the one.” (I’m resisting the urge to make a Goldilocks “just right” connection here.)

Which bring us to what might be your family’s current experience (and mine, yet again). Whether your child is a list-maker, a dart-thrower, a gut-truster, or some other kind of decision-maker, remember that this process is ultimately about your child.

(OK, it’s about you, too… but I trust you know what I mean.)

The May 1 National Candidates Reply Date is approaching where students nationwide will deliver their “yays” and “nays.”

We’re waiting…

(Ugh, the WAITING!)

May the decision lead your children to colleges that fit them well, wherever that may be.