Lauren Penner
Assistant Director of Admissions & Recruitment – Freshman
University of Michigan-Dearborn

What drew you to the world of college admission counseling?
I was involved as a student in my undergraduate years, participating in student organizations and student-directing the orientation for my university. After college, I knew I wanted to come back to the university but didn’t know much about the inner workings outside of student life. By chance, I ran into someone from the admission office, and they let me know a position would be opening soon. Fast forward, I started as an entry level admissions counselor—a road warrior for University of Detroit Mercy—and worked my way around the office in various roles. It also prompted me to complete my master’s degree, as I had found a passion for working in admissions and wanted to continue my education and learning of the field.

What is your favorite part of the job? 
I have two, and I believe both are critically important to my role. First, interactions with students. They are the reason I come to work each day. They are why we do what we do—opening bright futures and assisting students in their goals through the admission process. Second, the comradery. By this I mean not only the connections with other higher education professionals, but also our secondary school counselors. Not to be too cliché, but we are all in this together and when we work together to support the hopes and dreams of the students we work with, it is the best feeling!

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
I became involved with my regional Michigan ACAC back in 2016 and never looked back! I started on the college fair committee and worked my way to the executive board in the role of secretary. As my time as secretary was ending, we were coming out of COVID and the need to be back in person was on the horizon. This prompted the overhaul of the college fair committee—from revamping the request process and registration process, to moving to a partnership with an electronic lead service (StriveScan) to manage our fairs. We now have our own website! (How cool!!!) It has been a pleasure to serve as the chair for this new Michigan College Fair Committee.

MACAC and NACAC have shaped how I work, develop, and grow within this profession. Through professional development, networking, partnerships, and continual growth, involvement in these organizations only enhances my day-to-day work. I am looking forward to attending my first NACAC conference this September, particularly to meet many others who are in my shoes and to share best practices and new innovative ideas.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today? 
One of the biggest challenges currently is low staffing/burnout and the need for reengagement. Many admission offices have taken a hit during and after the pandemic, and I believe the shift and balance of remote versus in-person work will continue to play a role in the successful maintenance of staff in admissions. For those who are admissions long-haulers out there, the burnout is real and happens quicker than we realize. We are still trying to gain our balance connecting with our community partners, school counselors, and constituents in an ever-changing market, where the modality of connection can make the difference. I always go back to my roots, and look back at what worked before, but then ask why was it successful and how can it be changed, adapted, or completely overhauled into something new to meet the needs of not only my own admissions office, but how the admissions office then externally engages.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I spend time with family and my fur babies: a dog, Mari, who is a German Shepherd mix and keeps me on my toes daily; and my cat Dillon, who lives up to the black cat reputation. You also can find me plotting the next vacation or getaway, preferably to Disney (Florida, of course!), or checking off another hockey arena to visit (21 out of 32 visited so far).

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I immediately thought of one of my favorite Christmas classics, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the island of misfit toys. I chose Hermey the Elf who wants to be a dentist, not a toymaker. For those that aren’t familiar, Hermey has some important traits that I identify with: his passion and commitment for his true calling to be a dentist and not a toymaking elf, his commitment to help others, and his continued commitment to learning. In the classic claymation movie, Hermey visits the island of misfit toys, a diverse group akin to the many different people that have found their way to this profession. Like Hermey and his friends, we all come together from different backgrounds and life experiences and we work toward similar goals in our day-to-day work life.


Published July 31, 2023