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Meet Steve Syverson

Steve Syverson
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management
University of Washington Bothell

 How did you get your start in the admission field? 
Nowadays, most of the new staff we hire have pursued graduate degrees in student personnel or higher ed administration or something else specifically related to career paths like college admission. Forty years ago, that wasn’t as true. I got started in admission the way a lot of folks of my era did – I drifted into it. My work-study job as a student at Pomona College (CA) as putting labels on the catalogs for prospective students and hauling them down to the local post office for mailing. But, despite working in the admission office, I never once even considered it as a potential job. About three years after graduating, I was working in special education and got a call from Jim McMenamin saying he was leaving Pomona for a job at Columbia and encouraging me to apply for his job at Pomona. And here I am 40 years later!

What is your favorite part of the job?
This has changed over time. Initially it was visiting high schools and working directly with students. Interviewing them, learning something about their interesting lives, and imagining where their life trajectories might take them was (and is) so energizing! But as other responsibilities have increased, I have had less opportunity for direct contact with the students. My greatest satisfaction now is helping younger staff grow and mature in their roles and helping to shape the institution’s future through strategic and process improvements.

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
In my third year in admission I got involved with the Admission Practices Committee of Western ACAC and became particularly interested in how important NACAC was as the only organization with any serious role in helping to ensure the ethical practices of our profession, which, on the college side, is a very “competitive” business. Soon after moving to Lawrence University (WI), I took on the role of president of Wisconsin ACAC which introduced me to the governance side of NACAC. After that I became got involved with Admission Practices at the national level, served on the Commission on the Use of Standardized Testing, was a faculty member for both Tools of the Trade and GWI, and most recently served as a Board member. So there hasn’t been much of my career during which I wasn’t also serving an active role with NACAC. And I strongly encourage every member of our profession to engage themselves with the profession, beyond just their job at their particular institution. It provides important perspective-broadening experiences and you will find it to be one of the most professionally rewarding things you can do.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
I think that media portrayals and societal perceptions have caused too many students to perceive college admission as a game to be strategized and won. It has become too stressful an experience for them and we, in the profession, need to take back the conversation. Many of my colleagues at colleges offering outstanding educational opportunities are, nonetheless, scrambling to meet their institutional enrollment targets. And yet (public) attention is so heavily focused on the relatively smaller number of institutions that are highly selective that many students are concerned about their ability to gain admission to college. Granted, finances are a challenge for both institutions and individuals, but on a national level, there is ample capacity at colleges offering good and varied educational opportunities, so we need to move away from the fixation on gaining admission to only a smaller subset of institutions deemed “highly desirable.”

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
My wife would say, “He likes to work some more.” And at some level she’s right. I have been energized by my “off-hours” work with AICEP on the CEP credential for counselors, work with Habitat for Humanity, and on our Test-Optional Admission research project. Beyond that I enjoy hiking, gardening, and other outdoor activities.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Harry Potter. He has such a good set of moral values; he cares about practically everyone; he fights for the underdog; he is humble about his strengths and continues to understand and develop them as he strives to make the world a better place.

Describe yourself in five words.
Loyal, innovative, dedicated, strategic, and insightful.

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