Golden Ticket: Student Tour Guides Provide Insider’s View to Prospective Students, Families
SUNY Oswego Admissions student representatives—past and present—say there’s no excitement quite like pulling on their green polos, with the Oswego name lying over their hearts, in preparation for an Open House day filled with Laker pride and great memories.
“An infectious energy radiates throughout campus when you have so many prospective students and parents coming on campus, eager to take the first steps towards their future,” Autumn Pollock ’20 reminisced about her time not too long ago as a student tour guide and intern with the Office of Admissions.
Autumn, along with a surprising number of students who worked in the SUNY Oswego Admissions Office, enjoyed her experience as a tour guide so much that she followed the career path in college admissions. Before she had graduated in May 2020, she secured her position as an admissions counselor at New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls.
Several Lakers, including Liz Bridges M’94, Jennifer Carter ’05, Emmanuel “Manny” Cruz ’09, Dan Griffin ’92 M’00, Katherine Knopp ’18 and Jerry Oberst ’77, love Oswego so much that they continue to recruit new members of the Green and Gold family through their work in the SUNY Oswego Admissions Office.
“The rule of thumb in Admissions is if you do it for three years, you’re a lifer,” Manny said of admissions work. He joined his alma mater’s Admissions team in 2014, and the Queens, N.Y., resident recruits prospective Oswego students from the five boroughs of New York.
In his work, Manny said he “tries to keep it real” by sharing his own experiences at Oswego, like having had the opportunity to study abroad in Rome, serve as a resident assistant and participate in the Latin Student Union. And, of course, he was a student tour guide for Admissions for all four years.
Manny remembered the Admissions Office being located in a much smaller office on the second floor of Culkin Hall, versus now being located in Sheldon Hall. As a student tour guide and intern, he remembered a completely backward tour route for visitors from what is done now, as the starting points are on two different sides of the campus.
Over the years, Manny has had the opportunity to work with so many different people and create strong relationships with students and faculty, both in his career at Oswego and at other schools along the way.
An Oswego Love Story
For Allison Macey Berrigan ’13 M’14, working in admissions at Oswego has played a significant role in many aspects of her life.
She first became interested in Admissions work in 2009 when she saw her resident mentor from Johnson Hall frequently giving tours on campus, and envisioned herself doing the same. That October, Alli started as an Oswego admissions representative and eventually worked her way up to being the weekday information program intern during her undergraduate years. She even earned a master’s degree at Oswego and remained in the Admissions Office as a graduate assistant until August 2014.
In addition to gaining a lot of professional experience through her Admissions work, Alli said she is also grateful for her time in Admissions for a much more personal reason. In September 2019, she married her Admissions sweetheart, Matthew Berrigan ’13, whom she met while working at her first open house back in 2009. Alli can remember the moment she first saw Matt after he gave a tour and was shaking a father’s hand from the tour, and she couldn’t help but notice how cute he was.
Alli remained at Oswego the six years following her graduation working as an admissions counselor, but in February 2020, she and Matt relocated to embark on a new chapter of their life as newlyweds. She now works at Archbishop Curley High School as the assistant director of college counseling and couldn’t be happier.
Sharing their Oswego Story
“There was no better feeling than sharing my love for Oswego with prospective students and sharing facts about campus,” Amanda Millier ’14 said. “Admissions employees become like family, and there’s nothing better than working with a fun group of people.”
Amanda, now a visit coordinator at Sage College Admissions Office, remembers her experience touring Oswego during her senior year of high school. After being encouraged by her mother to give Oswego a visit, Amanda recalls the warmth and friendliness that radiated throughout campus from the admissions staff and to the students.
Projecting this friendliness and positivity to campus visitors requires a certain kind of person and skillset, the admissions alumni said. Carrying those qualities as a student worker into a full-time admissions professional takes a lot of knowledge, flexibility, creativity and communication skills.
Erica Huttunen ’15 reflected on her time working in college admissions at SUNY Maritime College, before taking on her most recent role as a career coach at Iona College. She said admissions professionals need to have stellar time management to be successful, as the job will require counselors to bounce from high school to high school in a limited amount of time, while keeping up with emails and office responsibilities.
Erica said the most effective tactic to get through the hard days was to always remember her purpose.
“It can be very easy to get stressed from traveling and reviewing applications, to other office duties,” Erica said. “Being able to take a step back and appreciate what you do for others is what will make a difference.”
There are always curveballs while working in admissions, from difficult questions, to quick changes of plans, to technology constantly changing, and everything in between. These alumni stressed the importance of constantly carrying on with a smile, and working hard to create a solution in a timely manner.
Team-Building Through Shared Experiences
Sometimes all of the hectic chaos has the ability to create some of the best memories, especially at large events such as Open Houses and Admitted Students Days.
Sharing special moments and traditions has created vibrancy and excitement throughout the Admissions Office itself. Gary Sutton ’08 M’10 remembers the day-to-day exchanges throughout his seven years spent as a student tour guide at Oswego. From the office traditions like the annual holiday parties, to the small interactions between office staff on a daily basis, those personal interactions are what made the Admissions Office such a positive work environment, Gary said.
The relationships built at Oswego tend to carry on into the alumni’s professional life as well. Although graduated many years apart, Michael Medina ’16 and Jennifer Yaeger ’00 crossed paths at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where both are currently employed as assistant directors of admissions.
Although Michael and Jennifer never worked directly in the admissions office at Oswego, it was their passion for higher education and working with students that influenced their decision to pursue careers in college admissions.
Sharing Their Oswego Experiences Across the Country
Alumni in admissions have taken up the profession both near and far. Brenda Tabolt ’06 has spent the last four years working as an admissions counselor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Law. Witnessing students eagerness and excitement from all across the country is extremely rewarding to her career, Brenda explained.
Michael Anderson ’09 carried his experience in new student orientation at Oswego with him to his roles in admissions at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, at University of Massachusetts-Lowell and at his current position at Louisiana Delta Community College.
Although Michael lives far away from Oswego, he still feels connected to his roots and all that it taught him through the daily interactions he experiences with students and colleagues.
Neither physical distance nor the passage of time dampens admissions professionals’ passion for their Oswego experience and the work that they do helping other students create their own college experience.
An Unexpected Career Opportunity
Cammie Baker-Clancy ‘83 made her admissions debut during her sophomore year at Oswego, when her friends figured it would be a unique experience and opportunity for them to be a part of. Cammie thought of her work in admissions as enjoyable and a way to spend time with friends, not realizing the career opportunities that she could pursue in this field.
It wasn’t until a year after Cammie earned a bachelor’s degree in communications at Oswego and graduated into a poor job market, that she saw admissions as a career path. After some encouragement to seek full-time positions in admissions offices by then assistant director of admissions, Peg Lowery, Cammie discovered open doors to a new career path and had several interviews lined up.
Cammie admired Oswego for the way that the college perpetuated giving back and being an active participant in creating your own future. She carried these ideas with her as she began her career as the director of admissions at Fulton-Montgomery Community College at age 26, and into her current position as director of graduate outreach and admissions at SUNY Empire College.
Sharing their personal passion and love for a school as a tool to influence prospective students on making their college decision is one of the most rewarding parts of working in admissions, the alumni said.
Serving as an Inspiration to a Generation of Tour Guides
Bryan Feener ‘14 said he enjoyed the interactions with prospective students and their families as well as getting to share his story and Oswego experience. Now as an admissions officer at the University of Connecticut, Bryan loves the feeling of leaving an impact on prospective students and knowing that his interactions assisted them in making their decision to attend.
Bryan reminisced on the success of different event days at Oswego by following the lead of his supervisor at the time, who he describes as his “inspiration” to work professionally in admissions, Katie Loiacono Maxwell ’97 M’02.
Katie made a return to the admissions world in the fall of 1999, after working in the office as a student throughout all four years of her undergraduate degree.
It was the phone call from her former admissions supervisor, Bob Stewart, that changed her life. Bob remembered Katie as a student intern and thought that she would be the perfect fit as an addition to the Admissions Office.
Starting as a back-up phone receptionist, Katie worked her way up to being the senior assistant director of admissions and student supervisor, until her retirement in 2015. In these 16 years, Katie touched the lives of many students and inspired many to pursue careers as admissions professionals.
Many alumni shared such kind words about Katie that reflected the positive and everlasting impact that she left on Oswego.
“Hearing that so many alumni consider me a mentor is humbling,” Katie said. “How blessed am I that I was able to work and learn from such amazing students.”
Having valuable mentors and leaders to lean on in a team environment is what provides for a successful work experience.
Finding the Balance
When the outbreak of COVID-19 hit, admissions offices were collectively at a standstill, and were expected to have a lot of answers during an uncertain time. A lot of these admissions alumni agreed that having the right answer for prospective students and their families can be tough. They shared that you always want to have the best answer for the families to hear, but unfortunately the best answer isn’t always the right answer.
People turn to admissions professionals for all of the answers about everything on campus, but in this line of work, it is important to be as transparent and open as possible when relaying information, alumni said.
“It’s never easy to talk about these things and it’s hard to sometimes have to dampen a student’s desire to follow a certain path,” Kristin Hall Schultz ‘09 said. “I believe it’s important to give the student and their families as much open and honest information up front so they can make the best decision for their future.”
After spending her four years at Oswego working in the admissions office, Kristin has now gone on to become an admissions recruiter at Xavier University. Through her experience, she still finds it hard to see students not be able to come to Xavier for various reasons, but truly wants every student to make the best decision for their future, no matter where that may be.
Having worked in college admissions since his sophomore year at Oswego in 1989, Dean Reidhardt ‘91 described how competitive working in admissions can be. He said the constant changing of demographics, budget and the number of other colleges competing for students can make recruitment challenging.
Dean is now the associate director of admissions at Buffalo State and still cherishes his Oswego mentors, Gradin Avery, Gail Akin, Joe Grant, Jerry Oberst ‘77 and Bob Stewart, for assisting him throughout his career.
The bridge from working as a student in admissions to a professional career lies in the passion that these alumni carry for what they do.
“In admissions, you will work around the clock, make lots of personal sacrifices,” Lauren Polak Kwaczala ‘11 said. “It can definitely be exhausting, which is why you truly have to love the work.”
Lauren is now admissions director at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, N.Y., and knows firsthand about having a passion for what you do. She remembers first visiting Oswego, taking a tour and the rush of excitement and belonging that she felt that day.
After initially ruling out Oswego as a possible option for her college years, Lauren’s father, Jim Polak ‘75, convinced her to take a tour to confirm that it wasn’t the right school for her. The tour quickly altered her perspective as she saw Oswego in a new light and envisioned it as her home for the next four years. On the car ride home from her visit, her mother even suggested that she could picture Lauren being a campus tour guide.
Creating a sense of community and belonging is what Oswego tour guides set out to do for prospective students. They are truly there to exemplify what it means to be a Laker.
For Shatawndra Lister ‘11, Oswego was the only school that she applied to during her senior year of high school. From the minute she stepped on campus for her tour, she knew she had found her new home.
It was the leadership quality that she saw in her own tour guide, Kris Vicencio, from her visit that inspired Shatawndra to become a campus tour guide. Coming full circle, Kris was able to help train Shatawndra as a student tour guide and teach her everything about the campus that she hoped to learn.
Having the ability to give students a positive push and the spontaneous environment all contributed to Shatawndra’s purpose in her current career as a senior transfer and readmission advisor at SUNY Plattsburgh.
Now, many years later these once-student tour guides still keep close ties with the Oswego Admissions family. A Facebook group has been formed and is flooded with photos, memorabilia, posts and stories all of the great moments shared in the Admissions Office throughout the years.
The reach and legacy that the Oswego Admissions Office carries is incomparable. From the relationships created, memories shared and personal growth achieved, it is evident why so many alumni go on to work professionally in college admissions and higher education.
— Gabriele Candela ’22