January 18, 2012
NACAC Board Q&A Featuring Steve Syverson
Dean of Admissions, Emeritus
Lawrence University (Retired) (WI)

 How long did you work in the counseling field before your recent retirement in June? How did your career path lead you to admission work and Lawrence University (WI)?

After graduating from Pomona College (CA), my first career was working with severely developmentally disabled individuals in East Los Angeles. In 1978, I seized the opportunity to take a job at my alma mater as an admission counselor. In spite of the radical intellectual differences between the two populations with whom I worked, the two professions shared the goal of helping individuals find opportunities to grow, develop, and achieve their potential. After five years in the Pomona admissions office, I had been promoted to director, and offers of dean’s positions began presenting themselves.  My wife and I are both native Southern Californians, so when I was offered the position at Lawrence University, we thought it would be a fun adventure to move to Wisconsin. We originally expected to be here 3-5 years, but it was a great place for our kids to grow up. So, here we still are, 28 years later, the last five of which I served in the revised role of vice president for enrollment.

A family picture capturing a trip to Costa Rica of Steve, his wife (Diana), and kids Nissa and Mark.

Kicking off the New Year, what are your resolutions for 2012?

My two top New Year's resolutions are to do more vacationing than I did while I was working full-time, and to master at least one interesting dinner that I can cook for my wife.

NACAC isn’t the only way you're staying professionally active in retirement. Tell us about your involvement with the board of the American Institute of Certified Educations Planners (AICEP).

AICEP originally was created to provide a credential that would help the public distinguish between experienced independent educational consultants, and those who had just “hung out a shingle.” My particular passion is helping this to become a widely accepted and recognized credential for school-based counselors, as well. This meshes well with some of NACAC’s efforts, because we all recognize that someone can become a school counselor with virtually no educational or experiential background in college counseling. While the CEP is not an entry-level credential, at some point in the future, I hope that experienced college counselors will routinely have "CEP" listed after their names (much like an MA or CPA) as a testament to their level of experience and expertise, and that young counselors will aspire to achieving it. I believe it has the potential to significantly advance our profession in the eyes of the public.

Smiling proudly at his retirement dinner, Steve poses with two of his best admission friends, Ray Brown, dean of admission at Texas Christian University, and Ken Anselment, Steve's successor at Lawrence, who was the director of admission there for the past seven years.

How has your involvement in NACAC changed and evolved since being chosen a board director for 2011-12?

We just had our first board meeting at the beginning of December, so I’m just getting into the swing of it. I’m glad I’ve retired from full-time employment, because there is a huge amount of reading associated with board service. And, I must say, based on that first board meeting, I’m incredibly impressed with the thoughtfulness and commitment demonstrated by the other board members. I really look forward to working with all of them- they’re a great group and all care deeply about NACAC.

Tell us about your interest in test-optional admission.

I am dismayed by the level of stress experienced by too many of our students as they move through the college search and application process. Too many of us at colleges, under pressures from our boards and presidents, play the selectivity game because, in the minds of the public, “selectivity” has become synonymous with “quality.” One focal point of selectivity has become the SAT and ACT. At Lawrence University, we decided to adopt a test-optional admission policy, not because we believe there is no predictive value to those tests, but because we believe the value is not commensurate with the amount of stress associated with them. Too many students spend too much time, money and energy focused on those tests. This fixation on test scores (and test prep) is tending to increase the schism between the “haves” and the “have nots.” So, we decided we could perhaps reduce the stress at least a little for some students, and perhaps help to change the conversation a little by adopting our test-optional admission policy.

My service on NACAC’s Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission was one of the most professionally rewarding experiences of my life. It reinforced for me that requiring standardized test results is fully appropriate for some colleges, and less appropriate for others. My concern is that the perceived importance of these tests is unquestioned by so many people, when there is so much evidence to the contrary.
Five adjectives that best describe you:

I expect these may not be the top five you would get from my family or co-workers, but I’ll go with: ethical, passionate, perceptive, analytical and (I hope) friendly.

What is something you’re passionate about outside of your career?

I am very concerned about our environment and conservation of resources for future generations. I love traveling with my family. I’ve also been very involved with our regional Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

What would you consider your greatest challenge thus far in life?

I’m very intense and clearly a workaholic, so I’ve struggled with trying to maintain balance in my life. I intend to use the greater flexibility of my early retirement to cultivate areas of interest I’ve neglected over the past couple of decades.

Remember to submit your job changes, retirements and opportunities for On the Move, suggest members for the Member Spotlight or submit photos and videos for Photos of the Week to bulletin@nacacnet.org.