Meet Pam Ambler

Pam Ambler
Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (GA)
Twitter: @PamelaAmbler

How did you become the Associate Director of College Counseling at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School? What got you interested in this field?
Going through the college search process two decades ago piqued my interest in the psychology of choice. After graduating from the University of Georgia, I worked as Director of Constituent Services in a U.S. Senator’s office. Ultimately, an opening in the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Emory University lured me back home to Atlanta. Once I realized that my favorite aspect of working in admission was teaching students how to maximize the white space on the Common Application, I knew it was time to switch sides of the desk. After working as a college counselor at my alma mater, Woodward Academy, I was honored to join Mount Vernon, where I have helped design a comprehensive college counseling program. Mount Vernon has a culture that fosters innovation. It’s a wonderful environment for encouraging students to discover their interests and craft their stories.

You’ve been very involved in advocacy efforts. Why do you feel this is important?
To me, access to a quality education is a civil rights issue. We should all advocate for the students we serve. By emphasizing that advocacy is akin to storytelling, I am trying to remove the intimidation factor from legislative days and other signature government relations experiences. This spring, Southern ACAC Government Relations hosted an Advocacy 101 webinar to help demystify the ins and outs of policy and procedure. NACAC supports these efforts by skyping in, creating action alerts, and providing materials to support statewide initiatives. Through the efforts of David Hawkins and Mike Rose, admission professionals realized that we have the tools necessary to advocate for lower student-to-counselor ratios, increased need-based aid, and access to rigorous curriculum. Part of my role as co-chair for the SACAC Government Relations committee is to encourage admission professionals to tell our students’ stories. In so doing, we are all advocates.

How does NACAC play a role in your career?
To me, NACAC is synonymous with professional development. I appreciate that this association welcomes professionals from all corners of college admission. That diversity of experience is rare in professional organizations. As a voting delegate, my personal interests in admission trends, advocacy, policy, ethics, and professional development collide at annual conferences. NACAC has allowed me to find my professional identity. 

Do you have any advice for professionals who are new to the field?
Yes! Become familiar with the words, “I don’t know, but I’d love to find the answer for you.” When I was new to Emory, I was hosting a Saturday admission event when a prospective family asked me to help them locate the Anthropology building. Rather than admit that I was still learning my way around, I pulled out a map in an attempt to help them locate the building. As it turned out, we were standing diagonally across from their intended destination. I was so embarrassed. Imagine how different that experience would have been if I had already developed my vocabulary to include the words, “I don’t know, but I’d love to find the answer for you.” Our profession evolves quickly; a willingness to admit that we are all constantly learning will help new admission professionals, regardless of their goals. Also, read Rick Clark’s Georgia Tech Admission blog - it is pure genius. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing counselors today?
Burnout. Whether you work on the high school side, the college admission side, or somewhere in between, we all need to make room for the 4Rs (rest, reflection, relaxation, and relationships). At Mount Vernon, we actively engage in dialogue about the ways we recharge. On the Wonder Women in Admissions Facebook page, we are encouraged to practice “self-care Sundays.” For me, exercise combats burnout just as providing opportunities for folks to tell their stories energizes me.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
These days, you can find me hiking, biking, or pushing a stroller in Murphey Candler Park (located on the north side of Atlanta). I’m almost always accompanied by my toddler (Fielding), rescue dog (Mikey), and husband (Stewart).

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Leslie Knope from NBC’s Parks & Rec. Leslie is the queen of compliments. She is an eternal optimist who is skilled at thinking outside the box. She’s fiercely loyal and a tireless advocate for positive change. Plus, I’d love to meet Amy Poehler!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am involved in the Southern ACAC and NACAC because of encouragement from colleagues, especially Jessica Sant. Early in my admission career, Jess repeatedly challenged me to help out with Georgia legislative day. I consistently responded that I would help after I finished earning my Masters in School Counseling.  In May of 2014, just after I graduated, the Sants joined my husband and me at an Atlanta Braves baseball game. Just as we sat down to enjoy our stadium hot dogs, Jessica reminded me I was out of excuses and it was time to co-chair GA legislative day. Because Jess trusted me to do the work, I rose to the challenge. I aspire to be that person for others.  

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