Meet Joanne Landers

Joanne Landers HeadshotJoanne Landers
Vice President of Enrollment Management
College of St. Elizabeth (NJ)

Can you discuss your professional trajectory and how you became interested in college admission counseling?
Throughout my undergraduate studies at Miami University (Ohio) I worked as a student tour guide and, like so many admission professionals, didn’t realize it could be a career. However, there was always a part of me that thought about higher education, working with students, and pursing a position in college admission counseling. Initially, I enjoyed working with students as a substitute teacher but that changed when I was offered an admission counseling position at my alma mater’s regional campus.

After spending two years at Miami University Hamilton, I moved to northeast Ohio and accepted a role at the University of Akron before taking a hiatus in higher education to work in the student loan division of in the corporate world for Key Bank. I stayed in northeast Ohio and worked for a couple of institutions and eventually became the Director of Admission at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

From Cleveland, I relocated south to Armstrong State in Georgia before accepting the Vice President of Enrollment Management position at Tennessee Wesleyan. Recently I began my tenure at the College of Saint Elizabeth because I value their mission and their focus to support students from diverse backgrounds that possess the potential to be successful. They have the academic aptitude, and many need the financial support, but we provide an opportunity for social and intellectual growth. Historically CSE was an all-women’s college, but we recently started admitting men four years ago (2016). The opportunity to move to a metro area of NY/NJ was also appealing.

You talk about meeting a woman of color in enrollment management with a PhD who inspired you to become a VPEM. How has that shaped your career? Who has been an impactful mentor?
I met her at a NACAC Conference and overheard a conversation regarding recruiting first-generation and students of color, and she went on to explain they rarely see a woman of color with a graduate degree, yet alone a Doctorate or in a leadership role. This inspired me to look at myself internally and pose some questions. How many women of color did I see through high school or college? How many women of color did I see during my undergrad or graduate career? I have always admired and appreciated the biblical verse Luke 12:48, “to whom much is given much will be required.” I can be one of those examples and inspire students and employees as they pursue college or professional careers. Letting them know that whatever they want to do, being a woman or student of color shouldn’t be a barrier to their success.

There are two people who I really admire and inspired me along my path to becoming a vice president.

One is Archie Nelson, my first boss at Miami University, Hamilton. His management style and leadership took an extremely collaborative approach and often provided suggestions and not criticisms which allowed me to learn and grow through my professional experiences.

The other is Barbara Keener, my mentor and dissertation chair at Cappella University. She worked in enrollment management and as a consultant at Noel Levitz (now Ruffalo Noel Levitz) and she wanted to help me achieve my professional and personal goals. She played a key role in my success and progression to where I am today. She kept me moving through her doctoral program and gave me tactics to survive when I wanted to throw in the towel. She once spent an hour on the phone talking me out of dropping out of the program.

You have almost 20 years of professional experience in college admission counseling, what has been your biggest surprise?
The high number of first-generation students despite how far higher ed has come. All of us need to collaborate on continued outreach from community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and working with community-based organizations to impact growth. Is there something we are not doing? We all need to continually analyze our strategies and operations, identify barriers to access, and make the application process and college search more streamlined for students. I am not just talking about simply introducing college early but introducing students to careers early on in life. Use those conversations as an inroad to discuss college opportunities and the meaningful and necessary impact it can have over the course of your life. The data continues to validate the need for a college degree and the more straightforward and uncomplicated we can make the process, the more accessible it will be for all students.

The most significant change over my career has been the varying mediums of how to reach the student. From paper and mail-heavy initiatives (letters, post cards, brochure) to email, now we’ve added social media, text messaging, and digital strategy through ads.

What challenges do you see in the future of college admission counseling?
It continues to be a crowded and extremely competitive marketplace compounded by the changing demographic decrease in high school graduates. It is becoming increasingly difficult for institutions of higher education to differentiate themselves and develop a unique value proposition.

Enrollment managers need to be extremely intentional about where you recruit, the strategies used to reach students in those markets, and always asking who else we should be working with to fit our demographics or who will consider us.

Advice for college and high school counselors or those working with students throughout the college search on the high school side of the desk?

  • Continue doing the things you do extremely well in your large case-loads counseling 500 students.
  • Be the support for and collaborator with the students you advise.
  • Be open to new colleges that you have never worked with before. If you have the capacity to host, allow new colleges and universities to visit and if there isn’t room, stop by a local college fair and have a conversation. Finally, if all else fails, schedule a 10-15 minute phone conversations with the college or university to discuss their opportunities and fit for your students.

Advice for a new admission professional?
As you enter your first role in college admission, don’t let your first travel season determine your future in the field. It has the potential to be overwhelming, with back-to-back high school visits, college fairs, flights, and rental cars, but there is so much to gain from the experiences you’ll encounter. Make connections and ask questions of not only the high school counselors you meet, but the college representatives standing at the tables, visiting the schools with you, and sharing the wifi at the local coffee shop in between stops.  Don’t hesitate to have conversations with professionals you meet while on the road at a college fair and don’t be afraid to approach assistant directors, directors, and VPs as the majority were in your shoes and can offer significant insight.

Ask questions like:

  • How did you get to where you are in your current position?
  • What do you expect in a {insert position or promotion}?
  • What ways can I get more involved or gain more experience?
  • How do you balance the professional responsibilities with your personal life?

Finally, take time for yourself. Go get a pedicure or visit a museum while you’re on the road. Do some sort of self-care or advocacy once per week to help avoid burnout.  Watch a movie on Netflix, exercise, meet up with friends when you travel, and/or just take a deep breath and relax.

You recently relocated about an hour outside of NYC. What has been your favorite part about NJ/NY in the first few months?
Since relocating to New Jersey, I have fell in love and embraced the culture and location. It reminds me a lot of my time in Cleveland, Ohio. The people have been so nice, welcoming, and accepting. I can walk ten minutes down the street and get real Italian food or head the other direction for authentic Puerto Rican cuisine. It’s truly a diverse region in every sense of the word. Not to mention New York City and the Jersey Shore are only about an hour away!

When a person visits your home state of Ohio, what is one place or event they shouldn’t miss?
Having grown up in greater Cincinnati, I highly recommend the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, it’s a museum that exposes you to our nation’s cultural history and takes you back to the 1800s. You will have an opportunity to explore and learn about some of our nation’s heroes. Of course, visiting Cincinnati wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Skyline Chili for a cheese coney and three-way followed by a quick stop for dessert at Graeter’s Ice Cream Shop.

What inspires or motivates you to counsel and work with students throughout the college search?
Dr. Bertrice Berry said at an RNL conference back in 2016, “When you walk in your purpose, you will collide with your destiny.” This quote has become my mantra and I repeat it daily.

For me, that purpose is working with students, particularly those who never thought college was an option. 

A student I worked with had very little support from his family and lacked the understanding of the college search. His counselor called to connect me with the student and provide some mentorship and advice. We made contact with other men to build a relationship, create a layer of support, and provide mentorship as he pursued college. It was gratifying and refreshing when he emailed to inform me he was accepted to a four-year college. A few years later I received a commencement invitation and he said, “If it weren’t for you and my counselor, I am not sure where I’d be.” It’s not the personal recognition that made this a gratifying experience, but knowing you had a positive impact and made a difference really solidified how important it is to impact the lives of students.

What is your greatest personal or professional success story?
When I finished my PhD and was at the national conference in Boston and a random African American woman walked up to me and said, “Dr. Landers, I admire you and you’ve given me the courage to apply for a doctorate program because I don’t see many women of color with a PhD.”

Everything has come full circle from the women I approached at a conference several year ago until that very moment. The moral of the entire story is you never know who you are going to inspire or who is watching or observing without directly interacting.

When you have 30-60 minutes of free time, what fills your time?
I enjoy trying new recipes and cooking and hangout with my dog, Rowdy, a Lab/Great Dane mix. My favorite recipe lately is pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies.

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