Leslie Davidson Interview (Part 1)

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In today’s episode of “College Admissions Real Talk”, Dr. Legatt interviews Leslie Davidson, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Beloit College, and they discuss admissions and seeking enrollment and aid during COVID-19.


VO: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk with Dr. Aviva Legatt, a podcast for students seeking to get admitted to top-tier colleges. Each episode will feature an important tip for your college admission success, delivered with candor and love. If you’ve ever wanted to take a peek inside the mind of a college admissions officer, this is your chance. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. So, what’s your dream school? 


AL: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk. I am Dr. Aviva Legatt, founder and elite admissions expert at Ivy Insight and author of “Get Real and Get In”. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Leslie Davidson. Leslie Davidson serves as a vice President for enrollment at Beloit College. She is leading Beloit’s admissions office and providing strategic oversight to communications, marketing and financial aid for perspective and continuing students. Before coming to Beloit, Davidson held a number of different positions at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, most recently serving as chief strategy and innovation officer. Welcome to the show, Leslie! Nice to talk with you today. 


LD: Thank you so much. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. 


AL: Same here, and it’s so timely because students right now our seniors and their parents are me deep in decision making time for college, and they’re considering all kinds of factors, one of which is, of course, the college’s COVID plans. But before we get into that, I wanted to just ask you to share a little bit more about yourself and how you got to where you are today. 


LD: Sure! I’ve been in higher education for almost 30 years and have led a number of areas from Student Affairs to marketing and communications to fundraising. The enrollment has been central to my work for most of the last two decades. My coming to Beloit was one of the happiest accidents of my life. I was happily employed and contacted the search firm to nominate a former colleague who, it turned out headed in a different direction. But in the process, I found a fundamentally student-centered college where the teaching and mentoring represented everything in undergraduate education should be and community that was ready to galvanize around enrollment in creative and innovative ways turned out to be the perfect fit for me. 


AL: That’s wonderful to hear. And I’ve heard great things from your alums, and we’ll have to talk about the specific person. But there was one specific person who went to my grad program who was just the Beloit cheerleader of the year and was always talking about Beloit and my sense is that people who go to Bullet feel that wonderful sense of pride for being affiliated with the institution. I have found that universally true, and now I’m curious about who that was, but we can talk about that later. We’ll talk about that later. So on the topic of decision making for students today and the COVID planning it’s such a, of course, an evolving situation, and colleges continue to evolve and change their plans. So I’m curious about what are you seeing in terms of trends about how colleges are resin COVID, and what are some best practices that you’re seeing out there? 


LD: Sure. Let me give a list of best practices in the form of questions that families can ask. First is information on current cases and the campus status, as well as the comprehensive campus response plan clear and easy to find? Next, has the campus conducted regular asymptomatic testing, which has been key to limiting outbreaks? Have students who are ill or in quarantine, received attentive and compassionate support and care? Has communication with students and parents been frequent, proactive and transparent? Has the campus partnered with the surrounding community in their COVID response and does their plan show and awareness of their potential impact on that community? Did campus leadership work with students in planning for a safe in person experience and the other way? I think of this one, Aviva, is were students seen as partners rather than problems. As school started in the fall, I was surprised and saddened by the number of people in my life outside of higher education who said to me some version of, well, I hope your students are behaving. My answer was always, our students are terrific. They’re the key to making this work. Student involvement in developing behavioral guidelines leads to student ownership and support of those guidelines and a relationship with college staff and faculty that’s collaborative rather than adversarial. I think students have a sense of accountability to one another and to the faculty and staff with whom they share. The campus tells you a lot about culture and what the adults on campus model in the way that they relate to students. And finally, beyond the specifics of protective practices in the COVID response plan, did the college keep the wellbeing of students and families front and center? American families are under increased financial pressure. Young people’s mental health has been affected. Existing equalities have been exacerbated. There’s enormous concern about the job market for graduating students. How is a college responding to that? Are there streamlined ways to apply for additional financial aid? Has access to counseling increased? Is equity and inclusion work embedded throughout the institution? Has support for students seeking jobs after graduation been strengthened? Have the alumni rallied around the graduating seniors as to how to find out? Start with the website. That’s where you’ll be able to find information about COVID plans, ask questions of admission, staff and tour guides. Yes, but also take advantage of informal opportunities to engage whether that is part of an in-person campus visit or during an individual Zoom session with a faculty member or a current student as to the examples of campus communications, it’s really rare that all colleges and universities have to respond simultaneously to the same set of circumstances, which allows for a really interesting direct comparison.


VO: College Admissions Real Talk is hosted by Aviva Legatt, edited by Stephanie Carlin, and produced by Incontrera Consulting. I’m Caroline Stokes and this has been your daily boost of college admissions insight. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. For more information on Dr. Legatt and Ivy Insight visit www.ivyinsight.com. And you can pick up Dr. Legatt’s book, “Get Real and Get In”, at major retail outlets across the world. Insight out.