Lee Ann Backlund
Dean of Admission & Financial Aid
Sewanee: The University of the South (TN)
How did you become the dean of admission and financial aid at Sewanee?
Like many of my peers, I fell into this field. My first year was 1981 and I spent the year working on data entry, touring students around campus, and sitting down for one-on-one conversations with students. I imagined that I would work for a year or two and then pursue a teaching career, but the excitement of the work kept me in the field and on the Mountain for 20 years in the office of admission. While most of my career has been at Sewanee, I did have a three-year stint at Porter-Gaud School as a college counselor before heading to the admission office at Agnes Scott College. The Mountain called me home in 2010 and I’ve never looked back.
What made you decide to get into this field?
My parents were both educators, so it was easy to imagine a teaching career. The long-time director of admission at Sewanee took a leap of faith and hired me with no experience, and for that I will always be grateful. The variety of the work keeps me on my toes and the opportunity to meet students in their schools or when they visit is really the best part. I realized after a few years that I was watching students go through such a transformation from high school student to a young adult, and I realized that the work is important as students make the transition.
What is your favorite part of the job?
After so many years I still enjoy the one-on-one conversations with students and the travel. The work has changed since 1981 and goals are more aggressive and harder to meet, but working with students is still the best part of the job.
How has NACAC played a role in your career?
For me, NACAC has defined professional development and has given me opportunities to meet folks from different parts of the country and the world, as well as from different organizations and schools. In many ways, my involvement in NACAC and Southern ACAC really formed who I am as a professional in the field of higher education. I have had so many mentors that I have met through these organizations, and my goal is to pay it forward and mentor younger admission counselors and college counselors.
You’ve been a supporter of the Imagine Fund. Why do you choose to give to NACAC’s fund?
I have been fortunate that the three places that I have worked -- Sewanee, Porter-Gaud and Agnes Scott -- supported my professional development with opportunities to attend conferences and workshops. These opportunities have played a key role in staying fresh with ideas, connecting with colleagues, and staying informed on trends and fresh ideas. Many individuals may not have these same opportunities without the Imagine Fund and grants for participation. I believe that without professional development opportunities, it could be easy to find the work frustrating, lonely, and overwhelming.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I love to spend time with my husband, Dan, and our two dogs, Kaiya and Buddy, and I try to do as much hiking and exploring the Domain of the University of the South as possible. I also love working out in the early morning hours to get my day started.
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be?
Wonder Woman, of course!
Describe yourself in five words.
This is hard, but I hope this is how my friends and colleagues see me -- open-minded, a Pollyanna, feisty, kind, and dependable.
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