October 31, 2012
Member Spotlight: Joe Prieto
Joe Prieto
Retired Admission/Counseling Professional
Oswego (IL)

How did your experiences lead you to work in the admission/counseling career field? How long did you work in the admission/counseling profession before retiring?

JoeSmall.jpgMy career in admission and guidance came about due to an inability to find a full-time teaching position in my field. I was unable to apply for a position at the local college because I lacked a master’s degree. I worked as a day-to-day substitute in the Chicago Public Schools, bartender/bouncer and managed a 7-ELEVEN store while I completed an M.A. in history, which qualified me for an opening as an admission counselor. After seven years and serving as director of admissions for three, I accepted a position as a college academic counselor at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. The opportunity to aid and support bright students at such a unique institution was too good to pass up. Fourteen years later, after I completed an M.A. in guidance and counseling, Township District 86 invited me to join the great staff at Hinsdale Central High School (IL). The learning experiences and challenges of being a “specialized generalist” at a nationally recognized high school invigorated and challenged me far beyond what I ever could have hoped for. I served as a guidance counselor for eight years, until health issues led to my retirement. After a total of 29 years, it seems as if it all began, “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

How have college rankings changed the culture of college admission since you started as a counselor?

The emergence of college rankings and the start of my career in admission were almost contemporaneous events. At first, the rankings were viewed as a bit of a novelty, but before I left the admission profession, our institution’s rather modest academic profile and rankings placement became a central topic in strategic planning meetings. Marketing of the rankings mirrored the exponential growth of marketing ideas aimed at garnering a necessary share of the diminishing 18-year-old applicant pool. The publications acquired a “J.D. Power-like” status. Too many families gave a disproportionate weight to the rankings. Thankfully, in recent years the efforts of NACAC and its members to re-establish an appropriate perspective on and use of the rankings has become a voice of reason for the students and families we serve.

CCscreenshot.pngWhat is the Counselor’s Corner? Who benefits from the Counselor’s Corner?

It has been a special pleasure to be a part of this new resource for students and parents. Sponsored by NACAC, the Counselor’s Corner provides answers to questions about college rankings. In that sense, the Counselor’s Corner blog is interactive in nature as responses are driven by inquiries sent electronically by students and parents to the NACAC Web site.

Counselor’s Corner is an outcome of an ad hoc committee commissioned and directed by NACAC’s Admission Practices Committee to examine issues and concerns generated by publications that produce annual rankings of our nation’s colleges and universities.

PrietoGrandCanyonCaption.jpgTell us about some of the concepts you’ve adapted to advise students who are searching for colleges and universities?

Once I’ve successfully communicated “institutional fit” to a student and her or his family, it becomes easier for them to understand the importance of becoming a well-informed consumer, so to speak, who makes concrete and personal decisions throughout the college selection process. Integrating the array of resources available; i.e., search engines, Web sites, teacher and alumni connections, publications, and campus visits enhances the nature and productivity of counselor-student discussions. The interactive and dynamic quality that characterizes a counseling relationship where the student takes ownership of the process is gratifying to a point beyond everyday descriptive terms. In this sense, there has been true empowerment for students during the college selection process.

Why did you decide to serve on the NACAC/US News & World Report Ad Hoc Committee?

In a manner of speaking, the decision was made for me. Scott Anderson, director of outreach for The Common Application, was serving as chair of the NACAC Admission Practices Committee while the Board of Directors was in the final stages of assembling the ad hoc committee. Anderson told me that a member of the Admission Practices Committee would be needed to represent the committee and he would like for me to be the one. Since I’ve always regarded such appointments as a compliment of the first order, I immediately accepted. For someone who had been known to irreverently refer to the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” as “the swimsuit issue,” the ad hoc committee was a good fit. But it was more than that—it was another opportunity to contribute as part of an outcome-determinative NACAC venture for the benefit of students and families.

What impact has your involvement in NACAC made on your life and career?

Had I never become involved with NACAC, a painting representing my life would be in shades of charcoal gray and pencil rather than evocative and vibrant oils and pastels. When you have been blessed with the mentorship and support of members such as Mary Lee Hoganson and the late Jim Alexander, I believe that is the best analogy. I am not sure whether any committee work, session development and presentation or other volunteer initiatives would have been a part of my membership activity without their encouragement and leadership pointing the way. Their influence complemented the avenues for professional growth available through NACAC membership, and the satisfaction gained enhanced my life as a whole.

JoeIndy500Caption.jpgNow that you have retired, what are your plans?

During my freshman year in college someone gave me a button that read, “If it feels good, I’ll do it.” Making the mistake of wearing it in front of my mother earned me several swipes with her broom as she asked, “Do what?!” and “What feels good?!” Now that I don’t have to worry about her reaction, I have resurrected that motto as my retirement ethos. Thus far, I have responded to two open casting calls, sent letters of inquiry regarding volunteer opportunities to both a NASCAR and IndyCar racing team, begun volunteering two days a week at a local hospital, accepted a position as an occasional advisor to a newly established school for gifted and talented students, inquired into a program at a local church where I would teach English to Spanish-speakers, and worked with NACAC on the “Counselor’s Corner.”

Outside of your career, what are your greatest passions or hobbies?

As the principal cook for my family, I can now devote more time to the art of food preparation. Visiting the wine country opened a whole new area of exploration, although the affordability of this interest is currently aided by the “Napa and Sonoma of the Midwest” – Trader Joe’s. With every night being Friday night and every morning being Saturday morning, I can now attend a few more IndyCar and NASCAR races and relax in the stands at a minor league baseball game. As so eloquently stated by Larry, the Cable Guy – I love this country!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” describes my NACAC and state affiliate membership experiences. It also applies all the more to the love that binds my family together. When I listen to this song, I realize that if I were to individually list all of the things for which I am thankful for to God at night, I would have no time for sleep. Celebrate the day, “take it to the limit” and Godspeed to all.