As of July 1, Karen Richardson has taken the reins as the new Dean of Admissions and Enrollment Management at Tufts, so my colleague and I sat down with her to get to know what kind of dean she is looking to be. Luckily for all of us, Karen is not a new face in Bendetson hall. She joined the Tufts admissions team in 2009 as an Associate Director for Diversity Recruitment and, in 2014, became the Director of Graduate Admissions before assuming her new position.
After talking to Karen for a bit, it is clear that her past experiences in education have shaped her aspirations as dean. Karen grew up in a very small town in New Jersey (as in one stop light in the town…) and while her parents did not attend college, they always expected their children to earn a degree. The youngest of four siblings (with a sixteen-year age gap between her and her oldest sibling), she watched all of her older brothers and sisters go through the college search and application process. Her parents took her on college tours, and were supportive of her ambitions to be a politics major and eventually become a lawyer. Her brother ended up encouraging her to apply to Princeton (his alma mater) telling her “The only way you definitely won’t get in is if you don’t apply”. Karen ended up matriculating there and felt lucky to find a core group of friends and mentors through a bridge year program. One of those mentors ended up being the admissions counselor who admitted her! Despite her success, she was able to recognize how the transition from high school to college can be difficult, both academically and socially, and was grateful for her support system. During her time in college, she worked in the Princeton admissions office and, during the summer, worked at a summer camp for students who were at risk of dropping out of high school.
After graduating from college with that degree in politics and studying for, but not taking, the LSAT, she worked on Capitol Hill before deciding she wanted to pursue a career in education. She traded her dream of law school for a Master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and went on to work for the Boston Public school system as the Deputy Superintendent for Family and Community Engagement. During her tenure, she directed the exam school initiative, which helped more first generation students secure spots at Boston’s top public schools. Itching to get back to admissions, she joined the Tufts admissions team in 2008- Karen says she was drawn to the holistic review of applicants and the lack of an expectation that only one type of student can succeed here.
When talking to Karen about her goals as the new Dean of Admissions, she first pointed out how grateful she is to be leading an office that is working well - she appreciates how much the admissions team truly cares about the community we form and how well we all work together. The first goal she mentioned was to seamlessly integrate the School of Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts into the greater Tufts community. Karen said she is not only excited about how the art students will benefit, but also how the engineering and arts and sciences students can take advantage of this as well. Other than integrating the SMFA, Karen is also eager to continue our work in making the admissions process more transparent. In her work, she has noticed that there is still a lot of fear surrounding this process, and she hopes that our office can continue to be a leader in making this process more lucid and to help all students, regardless of their background.
During our conversation, I was eager to ask Karen about her perception of Tufts students. While she was quick to say that there is not one type of typical Tufts student, she did mention some common characteristics that all Jumbos share. First, she said the students are “wicked smart” (and yes, she has been in Boston for quite some time now!) but are also ready to dive into various topics and learn for the sake of learning. She appreciates that Tufts students do not feel the need to impress anyone with their knowledge, and are proactive in standing up for what they believe is right. Even more, she believes that all students here are caring and genuinely interested in what is happening to other students, the local community and the world as a whole.
At the end of our conversation, I was curious what Karen thought our role as admissions officers is now, and what it should be in the future. We may have stumped her with this question, but she said our role is primarily to tell the Tufts story. She then smiled and said that now is a great time to be at Tufts- the recently opened Collaboration Learning and Innovation Complex (CLIC) and our new Science and Engineering building represent the kind of interdisciplinary learning we strongly believe in- and how our story needs to be altered slightly as Tufts continues to grow.
Hopefully you can tell from this piece, but we are so excited to welcome Karen into her new position and watch her bring Tufts to new heights.