Meet Joseph Runge

Joseph RungeJoseph Runge
Director of College Counseling
Carollwood Day School (FL)

What drew you to the world of college admission counseling?
Like many, I backed into college admission. I graduated from Villanova University (PA) as an undergraduate and then spent 14 months in Kathmandu, Nepal in the Jesuit International Volunteers (now referred to as Jesuit Volunteers Corps-International) teaching middle school English, biology, and moral science. I enjoyed that experience and working with children who were inordinately desperate to become educated. As citizens of a developing nation, they were so invested in doing well. They believed that education is a gift, not a right, and they never took that opportunity for granted. They viewed their education as a blessing and accorded teachers immense respect for their efforts. Their perspective was culturally unique (to me) and changed my view of what equity and access mean from a global vantage point. They were amazing stewards of the opportunities and gifts afforded them.

Upon returning to the United States, I pursued a master’s at Miami University (OH) and investigated different vocations associated with teaching or promoting equity and access to young adults. I researched various nonprofit communities and environments, but it was a call from a priest at Villanova (who happened to be my adviser and residential assistant while I was a student) that lead me to the field of college admission counseling. He was the vice-president of enrollment management at Villanova and indicated there was an opening for a western regional admission position and encouraged me to apply. I was fortunate to get the position and moved to California in the regional capacity for Villanova. Villanova was a transformative experience for me as a student, but also as a professional. The office was—and continues to be today—just a wonderful grouping of empathetic and humble professionals. It was, perhaps, my favorite job to date.

Ultimately, I switched to college counseling because of the travel demands of being a regional admission representative. My intent was to work in college counseling for several years (to understand that side of the equation) and return to undergraduate admission. What I discovered was that there was so much more to the college counseling side than what I had learned in undergraduate admission. It took a significant period of time to feel competent on that side of the desk. Working one-on-one with students and all the ancillary challenges they bring to the table was intrinsically fulfilling. Though there is pressure from many sides in college counseling, the opportunity to point students in a positive life direction is priceless.

What is your favorite part of the job?
I have always believed we are all capable of achieving more than we sometimes anticipate and expect from ourselves. Students come to a college counselor’s office often confused, anxiety-filled, and wondering how this process (which is not complicated, but complex for each family) will manifest. Getting students to not meet but exceed expectations and discover a forward path in life is rewarding. Working one-on-one is equally satisfying, as it offers the unique opportunity to really understand the whole child…fears, personality, workmanship, character, potential to contribute to the human condition, mastery, strengths, and challenges. It’s hard and emotional work, but like raising children, it is so worth it.

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
I think NACAC is the arbiter of truth and honesty in our profession. The standardized information delivered is always timely and very “on topic” with respect to current issues, challenges, and being measured and even-handed. The organization is an excellent guidepost for new and seasoned professionals. Further, I believe the regional ACAC’s are even more invaluable. I have been a member of four different regional ACAC’s and the local advice and guidance for professionals of varying degrees of experience is without peer. My first experience with a regional ACAC was WACAC. That group was and is terrific. I remember so much assistance coming from that group in particular. They filled in many of the blanks I had about being a collaborative professional. They put their arm around me (a novice) and said, “Let’s go, you’re one of us now.”

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
As mentioned previously, equity and access is paramount and universally pertinent to every college counselor and admission professional. One can never do enough in addressing these two underdeveloped principles and actions for those pursuing higher education. Additionally, managing student anxiety and stress throughout secondary school and in the application/admission process is palpable and concerning. A little stress is good for everyone, as it keeps people moving forward and can assist with meeting goals. However, the anxiety that students feel today can be emotionally and psychologically crippling. Everyone has a part in this…college admission, college counseling, families, and secondary schools. It is an arms race that needs an educational detente. From secondary schools feeling pressure to see better gains on AP/standardized tests results and college admission outcomes to colleges distributing annual profiles with admission statistics that seem surreal and impossible to meet. Having been on both sides, I understand both issues from a primary perspective, but with any challenge there is a solution. I do believe the profession will continue to evolve and address these student-centered issues.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I am a professional extrovert and personal introvert, thus when not working I enjoy spending time with my small cohort of family and friends. I was a runner in college and still find that to be a compulsive activity I have to do on a consistent basis (and “running” may be an aggressive term at this point in life). I love watching college basketball and a trip to the Summer Olympics is on my bucket list. I also grew up climbing in the Adirondack Mountains (I’m a native of upstate New York), so I still enjoy that as much as ever. I had the unique opportunity to climb in the Kathmandu Valley and Himalaya regions while living in Nepal. I can also Netflix with the best of them and enjoy traveling (like everyone else).

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I am still getting to know myself, so this is a tough question to answer. I love the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life (by Frank Capra). It’s a holiday classic. Maybe the main character, George Bailey…just the notion that every life is worthwhile and people really don’t know the effect they potentially have on others with whom they are in contact makes him a real and empathetic character.

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