On the other side of Admissions

When the class of 2008 graduated in May, some members chose to enter the corporate world. Others prepared to enter graduate school. Three decided to stay in New Haven to join the ranks of Yale’s gatekeepers.

Ayaska Fernando ’08, Helen Pho ’08 and Funmi Showole ’08 returned this past summer to New Haven, not as students but as fresh-faced admissions officers in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Just months removed from being undergraduates themselves, they will be more intimately qualified to bring Yale to prospective Elis.

The office always tries to fill two to four vacancies a year with new graduates, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel ’75 said. Of the 23 admissions officers at Yale, 13 hold degrees from the University.

Though each of the three new officers took a different route to 38 Hillhouse Avenue, all fit the description of the ideal candidate for the job, he said.

“We [look] for someone who has had a great Yale experience, academically and otherwise, and who would love to communicate that to others, as well as participate directly in evaluating candidates and shaping the Yale undergraduate community,” Brenzel wrote in an e-mail.

For Showole and Fernando, the decision to apply for the position was natural, they said.

Showole said she knew early in her freshman year she wanted to work in the admissions office. “I want your job, and I’m going to figure out how I’m going to get it,” she recalls telling a friend who worked as a student recruitment officer as an undergraduate. She soon had a job.

During her stint in the office, Showole will focus on encouraging inner-city students to apply to Yale, she said.

Fernando, who served as a student ambassador in South Asia, also brings experience to the table. A mechanical engineering major, he hopes to attract prospective students with backgrounds in science.

Fernando did not want to pursue engineering as a career, he said, and working at the admissions office was among several paths he was considering.

“Yale doesn’t tell you what you want to do in life or have to do in life, but it gives you direction by giving you other choices,” Fernando said.

Unlike her new colleagues, Pho never worked with the admissions office as a student. Although she was a freshman counselor for Jonathan Edwards College during her senior year, Pho said her interest in promoting higher education ultimately led her to consider applying to be an admissions officer.

All three said they expect to stay on for at least two years.

For the moment, Fernando, Pho and Showole are crisscrossing North America, giving presentations about Yale to high school seniors. Later, they will read applications from the locations they cover. Fernando’s travel plans include Long Island, North Carolina, Oregon and southern California; Pho’s current itinerary involves stops in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas; and Showole will visit British Columbia, western New York, the boroughs of Queens and Staten Island in New York City, and the state of Washington.

Although they get a lot of mileage, their trips are no vacation, they said. Besides the extensive preparation, Pho said, in addition to presentations with applicants and their parents, the officers will visit high schools and meet with alumni.

“It’s certainly not a vacation to California every week,” Showole joked.

Nonetheless, the three said they were excited to return to Yale and New Haven to work with the Admissions Office. The shift from undergraduate to working New Haven resident was enjoyable, they said.

“[New Haven] is big enough to be a city but small enough to be interesting,” Fernando said. “[We’re] part of the city now and there’s a sense of ownership toward it.”

As the officers embark on a new path at Yale, they paused to reflect upon being on the other side of the admissions process.

“It’s difficult to say whether Yale has changed, or that I’ve changed so much,” she said.

Given the current economic crisis, Yale’s attractive benefits scheme may mean that Fernando and his colleagues may stay, if not for a whole career, at least until the economy turns around.

“Ask if [your] company has a three-to-one matching [retirement] plan,” he offered as advice to his fellow graduates in the corporate world.

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