Learning as a Leader

Learning as a Leader

By Laurel Baker Tew, Chief Enrollment Officer, Viewpoint School (CA)

“What is the…personal attribute that allows individuals to keep learning, growing, and changing, to escape their fixed attitudes and habits? Not anything as narrow as ambition. After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die… Be interested. Everyone wants to be interesting, but the vitalizing thing is to be interested…As the proverb says, ‘It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.’”

John W. Gardner delivered these words as part of a speech made in 1990, at nearly 80 years old, to executives of McKinsey & Co., a consulting firm to some of the most powerful companies in the world. A distinguished Stanford professor, founder of Common Cause, and one of the architects of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Gardner knew exactly what he was talking about.

I’ve been hanging around the hallowed halls of admission offices for a long time: for nearly 13 years as chief enrollment officer at Viewpoint School, a K-12 school of 1,200 students, and for 19 years prior at the University of Southern California (USC), where I’d begun as an entry-level recruiting roadrunner and eventually rose to become director of admission.

I love admission work and everything it encompasses—outreach, selection, financial aid, retention, institutional research. It’s my vocation and my avocation. Nevertheless, from time to time we are all at risk of developing the fixed attitudes and habits about which Gardner cautioned. I was reminded of this when my admission world was rocked this past fall.

The Enrollment Management Association and USC invited me and Leo Marshall to serve as student success advisors/mentors to a special group of students about to begin USC’s Certificate in Enrollment Management Leadership program. Thank goodness there were two of us, and that I was paired with the wise and patient Leo, The Webb Schools’ director of admission and co-chair of The Enrollment Management Association’s Admission Leadership Council (ALC).

Thanks to a unique partnership between The Enrollment Management Association and the USC Rossier School of Education’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice (CERPP), the Enrollment Management Leadership program is now open to independent school admission professionals. As to the group we’d been asked to mentor: This wasn’t just any random set of students who’d signed on for USC’s world-class program. These exceptional independent school admission folks are tackling a rich 30-week online curriculum, the founding purpose of which is to educate leaders, both emerging and seasoned, in university enrollment management (EM).

The synergy gained from the pairing of these two cohorts is distinctive. The independent school admission folks and the college admission group navigate the choppy waters of EM together, partaking of the same complex lessons taught by nationally recognized university leaders in the field. Each benefits tremendously from the perspective of the other.

For our part, Leo and I help the independent school group tie the lessons they learn from distinguished college enrollment experts— people like Jerry Lucido of USC (who created the program), Bob Lay of Boston College, Youlonda Copeland-Morgan of UCLA, Barbara Gill of the University of Maryland, and Richard Shaw of Stanford—back to the reality of their work in day and boarding school admission offices. While there’s crossover between college and independent school enrollment management, sometimes the connection is not immediately discernible, and may need tweaking to be relevant.

Leo and I hover around the students’ discussion forum as cheerleaders, commentators, and occasional interpreters of robust themes like “Enrollment Management in the Societal and Institutional Context,” “Leadership in Advancing Issues of Equity in Enrollment,” and “Leadership in the Institutional Setting: Getting Involved to Directly Influence the Future of the Institution.” It’s exhilarating and thought-provoking—both for the students and for us. But back to John W. Gardner: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Here’s what I’ve learned. This intrepid independent school admission group has flipped me from their advisor into their pupil. In helping them to make the connections they must make, it is they who have become my teachers. Their insightful observations, their willingness to expand their minds and hearts, the enthusiasm with which they’ve embraced the complexities and nuances of this program atop their day jobs is nothing short of inspirational. I am humbled to toil alongside them in this rich vineyard of expanded possibilities.

Remember Gardner’s other point?—“Be interested.” The late Joe Allen, my dear friend and mentor and USC’s former vice provost for enrollment, used to say this all the time. He was interested in everything, everyone, every idea, ever curious, ever engaged, making each student feel special and valued, like they were the only ones who mattered. In the field of college enrollment management, Joe was a giant with a national reputation but was someone who never lost the human element. He taught me everything I know, and I miss him. Sometimes I’ve wondered, though, if his lessons would still resonate today. Joe’s been gone 15 years now. He never had to run an admission operation in this new challenging educational paradigm—the world post-9/11 and post-2008 Great Recession. A world replete with educational disrupters and dramatically changing demographics.

My answer came when mentoring week three of the USC program. I was perusing the readings to be covered, written by a variety of authorities in the field, in order to be ready for the students’ discussion forum. And there it was in the assignment queue: a College Board white paper from 20 years ago, listing Joe as one of the authors. Still relevant. Reminding us all to be interested. I glanced at the picture on my desk of Joe and me celebrating the opening of USC’s Hong Kong admission office in 1999, and smiled. I could hear his voice reminding me that the talented independent school admission professionals with whom I was working represent a bright future for the profession which he and I have so cherished. I learned something important, that counts, after I thought I already knew it all. I’ll always be interested.

For more information about the USC CERPP-The Enrollment Management Association collaboration, and to learn more about the The Enrollment Management Association scholarships available to member school admission personnel, visit www.admission.org/emcertificate

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