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.





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.

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.

“Finding Nemo” and Wisconsin Winters (yes, there is a connection)

Editor’s note: We enlisted the help of our summer tour guides to write a blog post summarizing, curating and—as Lawrentians often do—putting their own whimsical take on the results of a survey we sent to parents and guardians of incoming Lawrentians, asking them questions about the college search process, their hopes for (and nerves on behalf of) their students, and a handful of other curiosities. Without further introduction, we’ll hand you off to our students and your responses.  (Thanks, Daniel, Jenny, Patsy, Jake, Katie, and Anh.)

Before you read this, you should know that we are not parents. We’ve babysat, we’ve tutored, and we’ve played with some kids in our time—but that is obviously not the same thing as being a parent.

Regardless, here we are, writing a blog for all of you—parents of our newest Lawrentians!

While we were reading your responses to the parent survey we sent out earlier this summer, we tried to figure out how we could best relate to you. Oddly enough, the first thing to pop into our heads was a scene from the 2003* Pixar film, Finding Nemo, between Nemo’s father, Marlin, and Dory, the memory-challenged blue tang:

Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him [Nemo].
Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
Marlin: What?
Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

*Most of our incoming Lawrentians would have been between six to eight years old when that first came out.

The world is full of harrowing masses of jelly fish, shadowy drop-offs, and terrifying barracudas. And there are lots of things parents can worry about when their students head off to college: everything from pressure for academic success to student debt to laundry. Many of you mentioned [these worries] in your comments. However, many of you also told us about how strong your students are. They have overcome challenges and worked hard. And we know, as you do, that they are capable of so many great things, here at Lawrence and beyond.

On behalf of your students, we’d like to thank you for all you’ve done to prepare them for their college years—and on behalf of Lawrence, we’d like to assure you that we’re continually working to make our little corner of the ocean a safe place where students can grow and be challenged, both academically and personally. We can’t promise nothing will happen. Things will happen—good things, bad things, confusing things, comforting things. And when they do, you can join the Lawrence community in congratulating, sympathizing with, understanding, and growing right alongside your student.

Let the adventure begin!

Daniel Bernstein, ’17
Jenny Hanrahan, ’18
Patsy Kealey, ’16
Jake Lueck, ’17
Katie Nelson, ’17
Anh Ta, ’18

Thanks for reading! We enjoyed reading every single one of your responses, and here you can check out some of our favorites:

What did you enjoy about the college search process?

  • She became more of who she is rather than trying to fit a mold of who she should be.
  • It was a time of forced togetherness. My son actually wanted my thoughts and advice and we engaged on a deeper level as a result.
  • I enjoyed seeing the process unfold for my son…it is such a big decision and so personal, and I feel like I got to know my son better as a result.
  • The process in general is not enjoyable… but a necessity. The most enjoyable part is when you are done.
  • A surprise at the mailbox each day. Seeing the many possibilities out there.
  • The on-campus visits. That was the time when you could [see] your child growing in front of your eyes. Before that, college was simply hypothetical, but meeting her peers who had already made the transition was magic.
  • Watching you[r] child find [their] place and people.

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

  • I would like [my daughter] to be able to try new things, experience courses that will expand her knowledge. I want her to love learning again!
  • That he will continue to flourish on the LU campus by making lifetime friends, excelling academically/intellectually with guidance from engaged faculty and staff, and continue to learn about himself to find his passion(s) in this life.
  • That she will find her intellectual passion and build a solid knowledge base to achieve all that she aspires to.
  • My biggest hope is that her intellectual curiosity will be fostered, encouraged, and challenged by her community of Lawrence professors and classmates.
  • I hope Lawrence pushes him to “find” and challenge himself to be all he can be.

What are you nervous about?

  • Not nervous at all—I know this girl is ready to fly!
  • That he will be terribly disorganized, forgetful and (for a couple of months) cold.
  • The basics—eating, sleeping, getting to class, etc.
  • That he will miss us (parents) and that he won’t miss us…
  • …that she will end up living in Wisconsin for the rest of her life. That she will be far away from me because of the connections she builds at college.

What is your favorite thing about Lawrence?

  • There seems to be a “you be you, I’ll be me, and we are all cool with that” [culture].
  • Soon it will be the fact that my daughter is there.
  • It specializes in the individual… Lawrence seems to be saying “you’re one of us now, we watch out for each other. [We’re] there to help, sometimes even to push you to make sure you thrive.”
  • Its eclectic and bright student body and talented faculty that have chosen to teach undergrads are definitely a huge plus.
  • Mental diversity (many different approaches to learning/teaching and ways of thinking).
  • It feels like it is a family. The philosophy doesn’t seem to be that the incoming freshmen are adults, but “beginning adults” who need some guidance.
  • The people—students, professors, conservatory staff, admissions personnel and the president. We have been impressed with the intelligence, passion and warmth displayed by all.
  • The sense of community—and the sense of humor! Lawrence says it like it is—and in a fun way!!!
  • That she feels at home there.