Associate Dean, Equity & Access
University of Pennsylvania Office of Undergraduate Admissions
What drew you to admission as a profession?
I studied marketing as an undergrad, and loved it, but the corporate path did not feel like the right fit for me. Meanwhile, a friend and fellow Penn alumna saw an entry level admission position posted and suggested that I take a look. I never would have thought of that role for myself, but I realized that I really liked being helpful where I could – I had been connecting other students with campus resources informally for years – and I also enjoyed public speaking. As a bonus, everything I learned in marketing was applicable to higher education in the nonprofit sphere. From the start, the most rewarding part of the role for me was helping underresourced families to navigate the college search and application process in general, regardless of where the students might ultimately apply.
In your work at UPenn, what are some of the biggest challenges to improving equity and access for underrepresented students?
One of the biggest challenges is misperception. There are students and families who self-select out of the applicant pool before really investigating the school because of myths or stereotypes about the Ivy League. “Undermatching” is real. We hope that our counselor and CBO colleagues will help spread the word to high-achieving prospective applicants from historically underrepresented backgrounds that they may be pleasantly surprised by the community and the network of support they will find here. Students should find out for themselves whether this, or any school, could be right for them.
Another misperception that can undermine access happens around 5th, 6th, 7th grade when students are – or are not – recommended for advanced and honors track coursework by key individuals in their schools. We know that racial and ethnic bias can come into play, even if unconsciously, when these recommendations are made. This tracking often determines the highest-level coursework a student can ultimately reach during high school, which has implications for the college application process. Many bright, curious, and interested students are behind where they could be rigor-wise as seniors in high school because they did not have the advocacy or the encouragement that they deserved much, much earlier on.
Do you have any advice for professionals who are just starting out?Work-related advice: explore opportunities to learn from others who share a particular interest within the field that intrigues you. For me, that interest area is diversity, access, and inclusion, and has involved attending conferences like GWI, as well as joining professional organizations like the National Partnership for Educational Access (NPEA – I currently serve on the Advisory Board). These have provided valuable occasions to expand my network beyond my own institution.
Outside of work, always make room in your life for something that you love to do, something that lights you up, or something that calms you and brings you peace. Shoehorn it in if you have to but make it a priority for your own well-being and state of mind. Our dedication to this work makes a difference in other people’s lives, no doubt, but it can be consuming. We all need to recharge from time to time. I know we’re all busy, but we make time for what matters, and we should matter to ourselves.
You’ve attended GWI in the past – what did you enjoy most about that conference? If you could share one or two thoughts about what all members should know about GWI, what would they be?
This relates to my previous answer. One of the best things about GWI is being completely surrounded by -- and inspired by -- likeminded individuals who truly care about promoting inclusion and access, celebrating diversity, and learning as professionals. Members at any stage in their career should know that they can benefit from, and meaningfully contribute to, the experience and perspective in the room during any given session at GWI.
You’ve been described as an optimist. In these challenging political times, how do you maintain your optimism about the future? And how might we all infuse some optimism in the work we do as college admission counseling professionals?
I’m honored by that description, so thank you. It can definitely be hard with the world gone mad, but if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. (And yes, crying is ok, too.) What helps me is the knowledge that, at the end of the day, there is always something beautiful out there. So sometimes you have to turn the TV off and give yourself a break from the headlines to reconnect with those things that are beautiful, to absorb, appreciate, and be reminded of them. You will always find them if you remember that it is up to you to look. It gets easier with practice.
As for the work we do, think of that one student, that one parent, that one counselor who was really changed by something you said or did. That one “thank you” message that made you smile at the end of a hard day. That one question you answered that turned on a light for someone. That one event you organized that opened a door for someone. Write those moments down. When you need to be reminded of why we do what we do, you’ll know where to go. Also, progress feels good; when you’re working on a big project, celebrate small victories along the way.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I’ve always been physically active, so these days that usually takes the form of Latin dancing or running urban park trails in Philadelphia. I also dabble in the visual arts, and I am looking forward to attending a portraiture workshop later this summer.
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
General Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje (the Royal Special Forces) in Black Panther, hands down. For context, my favorite Disney heroine is Mulan because of how intelligent and capable she is. The downside is that, for those qualities to be embraced in her particular story, she had to pretend to be a guy. General Okoye is fully brilliant, fully powerful, and fully a woman. I love that there is no conflict portrayed among those elements of her identity, which is exactly as it should be.
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