Jarrid Whitney (Tribal Affiliation: Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫɁ)
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Enrollment & Career Services
California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
What drew you to the world of college admission counseling?
My actual first professional job when I graduated was on the periphery of college admission as a financial aid counselor for my undergraduate alma mater, Cornell University (NY). As a low-income student, I never really understood how aid worked. Starting out my career as a financial aid counselor was a great way to start in the profession. The admission position that really got me excited to leave Cornell a couple of years later was an opening at Dartmouth College (NH). It focused on coordinating the college’s American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian outreach strategy as well as being a member of its diversity recruitment team. I later did similar work at Stanford University (CA).
What is your favorite part of the job?
Originally, my favorite part of the job was being on the frontlines of working with, and directly advocating for, students with similar backgrounds to my own—underrepresented, first-gen, low-income, rural, etc. In my current role at Caltech, I rarely have the opportunity to do recruitment travel, but I’m now in the privileged position of influencing and implementing policies and programs that affect all students, especially those who have been historically underserved and marginalized in our higher ed spaces. And I am really excited about now working with a team of Caltech researchers to assess and analyze characteristics that may influence and inform student success outcomes at my institution.
How has NACAC played a role in your career?
For me, I often refer to NACAC as “family and fellowship” for two reasons. First, the work we do with individual students often has a ripple effect for their entire family and generations to come. And I believe strongly that we are most successful at this work when we can embrace the fellowship of our organization, and learn from our NACAC colleagues on either side of the desk in order to best support students. The second part of the family and fellowship concept is much more personal; my wife (Shelley Arakawa), her cousin (Sean Ohira), and even my father-in-law (Myron Arakawa) are also members of this professional association, at least until Myron retired in 2020 after being in K-12 education for 42 years. I’ve attended many NACAC and other college admission conferences with my family, brought my own kids along when they were younger, and even family dinners at home often reference elements from our professional lives.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
From a selective-college admission perspective, the biggest potential change on the horizon could come from the current Supreme Court’s case on race-conscious admission programs, which will likely result in a profound outcome on our work. From a general higher ed perspective, I am most concerned with the rise of college costs and the reality that most colleges and universities in America do not have enough financial resources to fully support low- to middle-income families without incurring significant debt. I am fortunate that Caltech is able to commit to meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need, but I’m very well aware that only a small percentage of US schools are in that privileged position, which is why we need to actively advocate for more federal and state aid support.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I love traveling with my wife, Shelley, and my two children, Kalia (13) and Luke (8). Our trips often take us back to my wife’s home in Hawai’i as well as my traditional lands on our family farm in upstate New York. And if I ever have spare time away from all my kids’ activities, which isn’t often, I love to go on motorcycle rides or tinker with my ’66 Triumph TR4A convertible; both hobbies I can now enjoy with my kids.
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I know my family will pick on me for this, but I would have to say Top Gun’s fictional movie character, Pete Mitchell/Maverick. While I don’t have his ego, I definitely “feel the need…the need for speed!” In fact when I was in high school, I took flying lessons from my father and considered joining one of the military academies to become a fighter pilot. Clearly my life went in a different direction, but I still have so much respect for our military, and occasionally love to rev it up on my motorcycle (when I’m not giving a ride to one of my kids)!