How did your career path lead you to your current position as McCallie School’s director of college guidance?
I began my “official” connection to college admission as associate dean at my alma mater, Centre College (KY), for 14 fabulous years, my last couple as admission director. I garnered two years as the chief admission officer at another fine liberal arts college, Hanover College (IN), before deciding to take a shot at the “other side.” I returned to St. Xavier High School in Louisville serving as a senior counselor focusing on college guidance. When my wife Pam was offered an opportunity to be a superintendent in Danville (KY), I found a position at Lexington Catholic (KY) as director of the guidance program. I expected to finish my career there, but I received an unexpected call from a trusted friend and colleague—McCallie legend Steve George; he had decided to retire and invited me to submit an application for his role as director of college guidance. Although I was reluctant to make a change that late in my career, I decided to take a chance, and I simply fell in love—fantastic students, supportive administration and faculty and a clear mission statement. It has been a wonderful way to top off a career filled with diversity and exceptional opportunities. I feel blessed that I have been connected with such unique institutions where I have garnered valuable experiences and made lifetime friends.
You were recently presented with the Larry West Award at the 2012 Southern Association of College Admission Counseling (SACAC) Annual Conference. What did receiving this award mean to you?
History of the Award: The Larry West Award is the highest award given by the SACAC. It is based on longevity of service and dedication to the organization, outstanding contributions to the admission counseling profession, leadership within the profession, and dedication to the students it serves. The award is named in memory of SACAC former president (1993-94) Larry West.
It’s virtually impossible to put the value and appreciation I have for this honor into words. Larry and I were close friends—often rooming together at professional meetings, frequently consulting about ethics and best practices and certainly enjoying social activities with our many mutual friends and colleagues. His death hit all of us like a thousand pound hammer. He was so full of life and energy; it didn’t seem possible. I will treasure that plaque until my own death, and I will never forget the lessons I learned from Larry about being non-judgmental in my professional and personal life.
How do you plan on spending your time once you’ve retired?
I’ll be moving back to Danville, my “Old Kentucky Home,” and I am excited about reconnecting with Centre College by supporting their athletic programs (we have some McCallie student-athletes there) and enjoying the college’s great cultural opportunities. I have had some nice experiences on the Centre College stage and in community theater venues, so I hope to renew that component. I continue to be a fitness freak; it will be nice to plan mid-morning workouts instead of before or after work. Pam and I love to travel, and we are considering an island escape and a biking adventure. Steve George and I hope to go to Nepal and trek to the Everest Base Camp. I have some exciting possibilities for independent college counseling, including placing Chinese students into American universities. I am also thinking of becoming a dog-owner for the first time since childhood—I want one that likes to run.
Did you bring back any new counseling concepts after attending the 2011 Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling Conference?
I learned about the ongoing controversy involving the recruitment of Asian students by American colleges, including the specific issues regarding the use of so-called “agents.” The greatest value was in the informal discussions with admission folks from all over the world. Dr. Gordon Stanley from Marist Academy (GA) and I were able to hike the beautiful Skyline Trail near Jasper at the conclusion of the meeting, a super ending to a great conference. I also learned how to coexist with Grizzlies.
What dramatic changes have you seen in the profession since you first started working in the counseling profession?
“Game-changers” since my start in 1972:
• Admission practices in the late 70s and the early 80s were built far more strongly around a counseling model than the ultra-competitive marketing model that currently dominates the scene.
• Predicting admission outcomes is much more difficult these days, especially at “highly” competitive colleges. Issues such as gender, ability to pay and ethnicity are much more commonly considered by more schools.
• Everything is earlier—more students apply “early,” deadlines (especially at public universities) are earlier and some colleges employ a variety of agressive recruitment techniques in their efforts to encourage very early interest on the part of high school students..
• The percentage of females in both college admission work and secondary college advising is dramatically higher.
• The cost of college has skyrocketed disproportionately to virtually all other increases, creating a need for college counselors to be very skilled in dispensing sound financial advice.
How has your passion for outdoor adventure helped you relate to students?
McCallie has a student body that is somewhat possessed with outdoor activity—we have a great outdoor program, and many of our students are into rock climbing, fly fishing, backpacking, and mountain biking. My office is full of remembrances from a lifetime of these pursuits, which ice-break many conversations. My adventures have also connected me with colleagues—I summited Rainier with Mike Sexton (Santa Clara) and John Carroll (Kalamazoo and ACT). I made the Mt. Hood summit with Gordon Stanley, Steve George, Mike Sexton, John Carrol, and Janice Schermer (Lewis and Clark). One of my best travel adventures was with three McCallie students and a faculty member—a habitat build in the remote part of El Salvador; this was a growth episode for all five of us as we learned the true definition of poverty and experienced the aftermath of a vicious, multi-year civil war.
My favorite quote, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away” hangs on a plaque above my desk. I try to live that way. So far, it seems to have worked. I hope my love of classic literature, music and the performing arts allows me to relate to students who are less likely to hear the “Call of the Wild.”
What is the value of NACAC not only in your career, but in all aspects of your life?
NACAC is part of my life, very close to being part of my family. After September 11, there was a hard decision about whether or not we should have the National Conference, which was scheduled a couple weeks later. The call was courageously made to go with it. About 1,200 people showed up—about a fourth of the normal number at that time. When I boarded the plane in Atlanta, I was moved to the front to help guard the cockpit. The pilot said a prayer before we took off; there were about eight of us on a plane that could accommodate more than 10 times that amount. Being with my colleagues offered a surprising level of comfort. There was one crazy, insecure moment when a large jet flew uncomfortably close to the convention center, but there was a calm reassurance simply by being with trusted friends. I think that episode during surrealistic times made me realize the importance of my relationship with this organization.
I have had the honor of being on several NACAC committees, and I was nominated and ran for the national board. Though I was not elected, the experience was totally positive, and the support NACAC has given me in dozens of professional endeavors has been consistently strong. I have not encountered any other organization that provides the combination of personal and professional support to those who make their living in this important field.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Though I am retiring from McCallie at the end of this year, I expect to stay involved in the profession and in NACAC. I am hopeful to retain contacts with the great people I have encountered through NACAC and the profession as a whole. If business or pleasure brings any of my NACAC friends remotely close to the beautiful Bluegrass Country of central Kentucky, I hope you will visit with me and Pam (and maybe our dog). It’s been a great ride, and I am hoping it’s not quite over yet.