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Expert Guidance

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College Counseling 

Individual attention to students in the college process empowers them intellectually, socially, and emotionally to confidently find the right-match schools of their choice.

Rowland Hall’s college counselors promise to:

  • know and care for each student;
  • guide students to discover colleges that reflect their interests and aspirations;
  • work with students to present their strengths in the best light possible; and
  • offer expert counseling to students and their families throughout the college-admission process.

Guiding students and their parents through the highly competitive, complex college-admission process requires an expert degree of knowledge, counseling, professionalism, networking, and skill. Our college counselors draw on many years of experience in college admissions and advising when they discuss each individual student’s and family’s goals for the next step after Rowland Hall. You can expect informed guidance regarding schedule planning, college-entrance tests, creating a college list, teacher and school recommendations, and college essays and applications. We provide current and accurate information about a range of colleges and universities—as well as information about trends in the ever-changing college-admissions environment—to help students gain admission to institutions that best match their interests, academic record, aspirations, and the family’s financial considerations.

Historically, all Rowland Hall graduates continue their education at a four-year college or university, including the nation's most competitive and well-known institutions. Keeping in mind the high cost of tuition, many of our graduates wisely choose to ultimately attend colleges that offer merit scholarships, packages not offered by some highly selective colleges.

Student-Centered Process

College counseling at Rowland Hall is a student-centered process and draws on the resources, history, and tradition of the Upper School as well as on the professional relationships and broad experience of two highly qualified and well-respected college counselors. Rowland Hall juniors and seniors meet frequently with the college counselors in group meetings and individual conferences, and the College Counseling Office offers a wealth of resources and perspectives to help students and parents navigate the process.

Just as Rowland Hall expects students to assume greater responsibility for their own education throughout their years at school, the college counselors expect students to complete tasks and meet deadlines throughout the college-admission process.

Connected and Well Traveled

The college counselors frequently travel to and present at regional and national professional conferences of organizations such as the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and the Rocky Mountain Association for College Admission Counseling, and often visit colleges and universities that may be of interest to Rowland Hall students. Rowland Hall is a known quantity in the admissions offices at several hundred colleges and universities throughout the country, including highly to most-competitive institutions as well as colleges of different types, styles, sizes, and settings.

During Interim week in May, the college counselors offer a several-day tour of colleges and universities in a different area of the country. Popular with juniors and sophomores, these trips combine college visits with tours of historical and cultural points of interest. The most recent destinations have been the Chicago area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Boston.

Get Ready, Get Set

Each fall, the college counselors visit freshmen during first-year seminar and sophomores during a tenth-grade core class. The college counselors present separate meetings for parents of ninth and tenth graders to introduce the college process for younger students.

College Counselors.

Faculty Contacts

Michelle Rasich 
Director of College Counseling
phone: 801.924.5957
fax: 801.355.0474
Get to know Michelle

Coral Azarian
Associate Director of College Counseling
phone: 801.924.5939
fax: 801.355.0474
Get to know Coral

Our Counselors are Leaders in Their Field

Michelle Rasich in her office.

The Rocky Mountain Association for College Admission Counseling (RMACAC) recently named College Counseling Director Michelle Rasich one of two recipients of their 2019 Roger H. Campbell Award—the organization’s most prestigious distinction, signaling career-long excellence.

RMACAC’s description of the honor:

The Roger H. Campbell Award was presented for the first time in 2000 and honors individuals who have made significant contributions to RMACAC and our profession through their many years of service. This award recognizes those who have met the highest standards of commitment to our college admission profession. The Roger H. Campbell Award is the highest tribute RMACAC can give to recognize individuals who exemplify excellence and dedication to serving the needs of students in the transition from high school to college.

Michelle has worked at Rowland Hall since 2010 and has made international waves in her field by popularizing a new approach to letters of recommendation, among other accomplishments.

“All who serve and sacrifice in furtherance of the RMACAC mission inspire and motivate me to work smarter, dream bigger, and innovate faster,” Michelle said after receiving the award, adding she was grateful for and humbled by the recognition.

Michelle received the award at an industry conference May 22. RMACAC is a nonprofit professional association consisting of over 450 people from secondary and post-secondary institutions. They’re an affiliate of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

college counseling

College Counseling Ambassadors

By Coral Azarian, associate director of College Counseling, Student Council advisor, and a 2017 graduate of the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute (gcLI) Leadership Lab

Republished from gcLi with permission; this version lightly edited.

In the late ’90s, John Christensen visited the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. He watched fishmongers toss massive fresh catches to one another while effortlessly interacting with throngs of tourists, and realized that despite the smiles, jokes, and radiating positivity, throwing heavy fish for an audience all day was tedious work.

Yet the experience for everyone was always happy, because regardless of variables—from bad weather to long work shifts—the fishmongers were always happy. They were always positive; they were always present; they actively sought ways to make their audience’s experience memorable; and they always had fun.

Leadership is complex, but at its core, it should be something we enjoy. Successful leaders are consistent and have fun, and we should instill that in our students. People who embrace that philosophy are more impactful and sustainable leaders than those motivated by expectation alone.

For the last four years, I’ve worked as Rowland Hall’s associate director of College Counseling. In the fall, our office is dedicated to supporting the needs and nurturing the anxieties of over 70 seniors, and we often find ourselves at a loss as to how to serve everyone to the fullest degree.

The last straw was when one admissions representative visited our school without meeting a single one of our students. He represented a college that my colleague and I knew would be a great fit for a number of our seniors, but because it wasn’t in the 25 perennial favorite “reach” schools of students and their parents, no one signed up. The representative was instead left to meet with my colleague and me. This experience, along with the daily stress of meeting the needs of students and visitors, inspired our College Counseling Ambassadors program.

The tenets—choosing your attitude, being present, finding small ways to make someone else’s day, and infusing fun into your work—serve as the perfect platform for a student-leadership program.

So what does a new student-leadership program have to do with fishmongers? Well, with my unwritten but foremost job responsibility being relationship building, I live my own version of the fishmonger’s story every day. The FISH! philosophy, the leadership theory that Christensen developed as a result of his Pike Place observations, is now used by organizations the world over. It’s a natural match for Rowland Hall. The tenets—choosing your attitude, being present, finding small ways to make someone else’s day, and infusing fun into your work—serve as the perfect platform for a student-leadership program.

Our ambassador team began with a group of second-semester sophomores who completed applications and interviews and participated in two months of training. Each ambassador developed a campus tour highlighting their unique Rowland Hall experience, then conducted mock tours with their peers and provided constructive feedback to ensure everyone would lead successful visits. Starting in the fall, they turned that training into concrete leadership as they adapted to last-minute schedule changes, guided peers on what to expect while talking with college reps, and synthesized and relayed institutional highlights in weekly emails to entice seniors to attend college meetings.

As the semester progressed, their confidence grew, and I witnessed—while they experienced—the FISH! philosophy in action:

Choose Your Attitude

We all have days when things don’t seem to be going right. For our ambassadors, this might  mean they overslept or have anxiety over a test. But when it’s time to don that nametag and welcome college reps to campus, ambassadors choose to have a positive attitude. They ensure guests leave knowing more about Rowland Hall, and that their time here was valued. This is a major goal of the program and a key component in developing students’ abilities to be positive leaders.

For our ambassadors, being there doesn’t just mean showing up on time. It means staying engaged throughout a rep’s visit, asking questions during their presentation, and cultivating curiosity about the opportunities an institution provides.

Be There

Our students exist in a culture that is constantly propelling them forward, providing little reward for being present and getting out from behind a screen. For our ambassadors, being there doesn’t just mean showing up on time. It means staying engaged throughout a rep’s visit, asking questions during their presentation, and cultivating curiosity about the opportunities an institution provides, even if they don’t think it would be a great fit for them personally. Being there also manifests in an ambassador’s ability to think on their feet and adjust to schedule changes. Focusing on the present helps them adapt to unplanned or less-than-ideal situations.

Make Their Day

Emotional intelligence is an important component of leadership development. For our ambassadors, this takes shape when they find small ways to make reps special. Ambassadors ensure that reps have the opportunity to set their bags down or get a drink of water before their tour. They also send reps handwritten thank-you cards. Helping our ambassadors develop the emotional intelligence to read and respond to situations empowers them to make others feel valued.

Play

Ambassadors may not be be enthusiastic about every college they’re assigned, and they may not always be jazzed about drafting yet another email on what they learned about a university. But we can still have fun. Celebrating successes—whether by hosting our end-of-semester breakfast or by sharing compliments paid to ambassadors via post-visit surveys—is an important practice that our lead ambassadors (a new component of the program this year) are now adopting. Taking a step back to find joy in your work is an important facet of leadership.

So as I kick off my 27th school year (as a student and counselor) with a new crop of ambassadors and our first crew of lead ambassadors, I’m energized by the enthusiasm of my students diving in headfirst. Our lead ambassadors are learning how to mentor our new folks, and in each interaction, I see them actively choosing positivity, finding ways to make each other’s day, and exploring new opportunities to infuse play into every aspect of the program.

Coral graduated from the gcLi Leadership Lab in 2017. The lab, by presenting a foundation in developmental psychology and brain science, helps educators develop the ability to identify, utilize, and create teachable moments to transform individuals, classrooms, sports teams, and whole schools.

College Counseling

College counselor meeting with student.

College Counseling Director Michelle Rasich has helped to fine-tune a new, effective format for recommendation letters. Now she's leading the charge to teach her peers about it, and it's gaining traction across the globe.

When College Counseling Director Michelle Rasich and three colleagues from other institutions learned they'd be presenting a conference session in a 20,000-square-foot ballroom at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, they suspected there'd been a miscommunication.

The group was scheduled to give a presentation called "Recs that Change Lives" early on Friday, September 15, at the National Association for College Admission Counseling's (NACAC) annual conference.

"We were convinced there had been a mistake, that this was not the right room for us—we were supposed to be in a smaller room," she said. A coordinator confirmed the roughly 1,000-seat space was indeed for them, and 958 attendees showed up that Friday morning.

"None of us had ever presented to a group that size," Michelle said. "I was more energized than nervous, because I was so excited to have that reach and to be able to affect that many people."

According to feedback from attendees, she and her presenters lived up to the hype. Comments included, "THIS alone was worth the travel to Boston"; "Best I've attended in my 31 years!"; "Life changing"; and "Michelle is amazing. I want to go to every session she does at every conference."

Word had already been spreading on "Recs that Change Lives," organized-narrative letters of recommendation for high schoolers applying to college. Michelle named the concept as a nod to Colleges that Change Lives, a book and subsequent organization of student-centered colleges well-known among college counselors. The letters use a series of headers and bullet points so they're easier for admissions officers to read and simpler for college counselors to write. Specifically, Michelle coined headers such as "Distinctive Qualities" and "College Readiness and Recommendation" based on what admissions officers told her they're trying to find in the letters.

"They're on a scavenger hunt," she said. "They're looking for this, so why not just give it to them instead of making them dig for it."

The Problem

When Michelle started at Rowland Hall in 2010, she devoted ample time to writing traditional two-page letters. "I was spending a lot of time in transition—making sure that paragraph one was logically and smoothly tied to paragraph two," she said. She spent up to two and a half hours on one letter, while a college-admissions officer spent 15 minutes reading an entire 15- to 20-page student file. Accordingly, the number of college applications continues to increase in part due to the Common Application, Michelle explained, but individual colleges aren't necessarily hiring more admissions staff.

While on a bus tour of midwestern colleges with peers from the Association for College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS), Michelle broached the problem to colleagues. There has to be a better way, she told fellow counselors, to work smarter, not harder, and to better advocate for high schoolers while taking into account the realities faced by admissions officers.

Some of Michelle's New England peers discussed a format they'd long been using. It entailed organizing letter content in a more visual way, with headers and bullets, so readers could more easily find what they were looking for, whether that was extracurricular activities or academic growth and trends.

The Data-Driven Solution

So counselors on the ACCIS bus tour mocked up a sample letter, and over the summer, Michelle—data enthusiast that she is—gathered feedback on admissions officers' reactions to the new format. Michelle and Associate Director of College Counseling Coral Azarian care very much about collecting data to assess their work, Michelle said. They regularly poll students, for instance, to track trends related to college counseling.

"We don't want to assume that we're doing our jobs in a way that is beneficial to students and college readers," Michelle said. "We want to know for a fact."

Michelle surveyed the 25 colleges that (a) Rowland Hall students most frequently apply to, and that (b) accept letters of recommendation. Seventeen representatives responded with positive feedback, and Michelle made minor adjustments to headers based on suggestions. She implemented the new format the following school year, and surveyed admissions officers once more. Feedback this time, she said, was even more positive. A representative from Vanderbilt University, for instance, wrote, "I really like the format, as it allows me to focus on a certain section. The categories that you've chosen are helpful and things that we would look for in our process." Other admissions officers encouraged Michelle to continue using the new style and to teach others about it.

Evangelizing 'Recs that Change Lives'

As an alumna of Bowdoin College, Michelle is a staunch believer in the common good. So after admissions colleagues praised the new format in the second survey, she led the charge to share "Recs that Change Lives." She wanted to spread the gospel on this effective method that steered counselors toward a more concise style—Michelle now spent about an hour on each letter—without sacrificing the personal details admissions professionals desired.

For several years, Michelle and her colleagues presented the concept at regional conferences. Traction at that level inspired them to present at NACAC, which opened the floodgates. Every day for a month after that Boston session, counselors from across the world emailed Michelle requesting the presentation materials. Now, six months later, knowledge of the format is nearly ubiquitous.

John McLaughlin, associate dean of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, co-presented with Michelle at NACAC. He's seen more organized-narrative recommendations come across his desk over the past year. The format allows writers to get to the point, he said, which can be useful for recommenders writing dozens of letters. "I think Michelle's work to share the approach has been a key factor in its growing popularity," he said. "It was thoughtful and generous to do that, and that's Michelle."

Michelle likes to bill the letters as a win-win-win: "It's a win for the student, because we are able to advocate more effectively based on the feedback; it's a win for the reader; and it's definitely a win for the counselor," she said. "I always put the counselors last in that equation because that's how it should be focused—the student, the audience, the writer."

Writers may be last in that equation, but they're still reaping benefits. Michelle said public-school counselors have told her time saved writing letters now goes back into spending more nights and weekends with their families. And of course, there's plenty of buy-in here at Rowland Hall, where 90% of teachers who write recommendation letters use the new format. A group of 12 early adopters included Math Department Chair Brian Birchler and English teacher Kody Partridge. Kody said the format keeps her focused on key components of the letter without surrendering to a formula. Brian said it helps him provide a clearer picture of the student, and to do so more efficiently: "As someone who has to spend a long time to write well, the bulleted format really lets me focus on telling the story of a student's experience with mathematics."

Service work by Michelle and Coral continues to bolster Rowland Hall's already-strong reputation in the fields of college counseling and admissions. In addition to regularly presenting "Recs that Change Lives," Michelle serves on a NACAC ad hoc committee and is co-chair for that organization's next annual conference here in Salt Lake City. Coral is the social committee co-chair for that same conference, and currently serves on the executive board of the Rocky Mountain Association for College Admissions Counseling, which Michelle led four years ago.

"Recs that Change Lives" has shone an international spotlight on Rowland Hall, and Michelle is still soaking it all in. "I'm so proud to be representing Rowland Hall at this level and to be contributing to the common good of all counselors and admissions professionals," she said. "This is a career hallmark."

college counseling

Junior Year

A junior in class.

Junior Year

Juniors attend monthly group meetings beginning in January that kick off the college planning process in earnest, and the college counselors meet personally with juniors and their parents throughout the late winter, spring, and early summer. Junior parents participate in an introductory group meeting in January, and they receive regular communication from the College Counseling Office as the year continues. In January of their junior year, students begin exploring Naviance, a powerful web-based college-planning resource that Rowland Hall has used for a dozen years.

Senior Year

College Counseling director meeting with student.

Senior Year

Rowland Hall seniors confer regularly with the college counselors. Seniors participate in dedicated workshops on a wide range of topics: application boot camp, college essays, application case studies with admissions professionals, mock interviews, college-bound athletes, and college-bound performing and visual artists. Students also meet with some of the nearly 50 college and university admissions representatives who visit Rowland Hall each fall. The college counselors advise students on developing their college lists; drafting and revising their college essays and application supplements; considering early application/decision plans; taking the SAT, ACT, and/or SAT Subject Tests; making college-visit plans; and much more.

Stories About College Counseling & Young Alumni in College

Michelle Rasich in her office.

The Rocky Mountain Association for College Admission Counseling (RMACAC) recently named College Counseling Director Michelle Rasich one of two recipients of their 2019 Roger H. Campbell Award—the organization’s most prestigious distinction, signaling career-long excellence.

RMACAC’s description of the honor:

The Roger H. Campbell Award was presented for the first time in 2000 and honors individuals who have made significant contributions to RMACAC and our profession through their many years of service. This award recognizes those who have met the highest standards of commitment to our college admission profession. The Roger H. Campbell Award is the highest tribute RMACAC can give to recognize individuals who exemplify excellence and dedication to serving the needs of students in the transition from high school to college.

Michelle has worked at Rowland Hall since 2010 and has made international waves in her field by popularizing a new approach to letters of recommendation, among other accomplishments.

“All who serve and sacrifice in furtherance of the RMACAC mission inspire and motivate me to work smarter, dream bigger, and innovate faster,” Michelle said after receiving the award, adding she was grateful for and humbled by the recognition.

Michelle received the award at an industry conference May 22. RMACAC is a nonprofit professional association consisting of over 450 people from secondary and post-secondary institutions. They’re an affiliate of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

college counseling

Portrait of a Gap Year: Work, Activism, Writing, Self-Care, and Self-Discovery

Editor’s note: Gap years have long been common in Europe, and they’re on the rise in the US. So what happens when a high-achieving Rowland Hall alum takes a break from the classroom? Read on for our 2018 co-valedictorian’s account.

By Allie Zehner ’18

Ever since middle school, I had my life all planned out: graduate from high school, launch straight into college, graduate from college, and immediately enter grad school or a career. Straying from this pin-straight path didn’t seem like an option; however, here I am, writing this piece at the end of my gap year.

At the end of my junior year, certain projects arose that I was extremely passionate about pursuing. However, I knew that juggling these opportunities with the intensity of school would be extremely challenging.

Looking back, I don’t remember the exact moment I said, “Hey, mom and dad, I’m taking a year between high school and college.” Because this option did not pop up on my radar until eleventh grade, the only way to describe my decision is as the perfect collision of four distinct circumstances. First: at the end of my junior year, certain projects arose that I was extremely passionate about pursuing. However, I knew that juggling these opportunities with the intensity of school would be extremely challenging. Second: in the fall of my senior year, my family hosted two young women, Priya and Winona, who were in the middle of taking gap years to travel the country, interview people about their intersectional identities, and write a book on racial literacy. Third: I met Abby Falik, the founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, an organization dedicated to making bridge years between high school and university a socially acceptable norm. Fourth: after continuously pushing myself throughout high school and becoming co-valedictorian, I was afraid of burning out. 

So, I committed to Barnard College of Columbia University in New York last spring and asked for a deferral of admission, elucidating my gap year plans. Barnard approved my request, I filled out a one-page form, and just like that, I was taking a gap year. 

And so the year began.

In the summer, I worked part-time jobs and saved some money.

In the fall, I worked with Sonita Alizadeh (pictured top, right, being interviewed by Allie at a Surefire conference), a young activist who uses music as a tool to catalyze social change, particularly looking to end the detrimental traditional practice of child marriage. Through my work with her and a nonprofit, Strongheart Group, I conducted research, interviewed young activists from around the world, and traveled to the United Nations Foundation’s Social Good Summit in New York City. 

In the winter, I started focusing on curating a book about the next generation of young women. Formatted as a collection of essays, I will write about half of the chapters and other teen girls will write the rest. From omnipresent social media to an extremely divided political climate to gun violence, this book will speak to the most pressing, serious issues my generation is facing on our journey to adulthood. Learning through doing, I taught myself how to write a book proposal, draft a query letter, reach out to agents, and build a website. 

In the spring, I was extremely fortunate to travel to Colombia, where I used my Spanish (gracias, Señor Burnett), attended a women’s conference, and shadowed an incredible nonprofit, Juanfe, that works with teen moms in Cartagena. And, coincidentally, I met another teen who is taking a gap year to live in South American cities, work, become fluent in Spanish, and volunteer. I have also spent the spring loving (pretty much) every second of learning how to write a book. 

The other key aspect of this year is that, having struggled with a chronic illness since the seventh grade, I made time to see doctors and get necessary testing. While I still do not know the root cause of my health issues, I am better equipped to manage my symptoms and look after my own well being: two things I did not prioritize in middle and high school.

And that is my gap year in a nutshell. 

Spending a year outside the classroom has given me time to nurture other facets of my persona: I am an activist, daughter, employee, sister, and global citizen. 

Let me just say that taking this year and venturing from the extremely narrow life path I had envisioned has been one of my best decisions. From around the time I could walk, I was in school five days a week, seven hours a day. For 15 years, being a student was absolutely core to my identity. Spending a year outside the classroom has given me time to nurture other facets of my persona: I am an activist, daughter, employee, sister, and global citizen. 

I will be attending university this fall. Contrary to what is sometimes believed about gap years, I will be going back to school with an immensely stronger sense of self, more direction, and a readiness to return to the classroom. I could not be more ecstatic to finish my book throughout freshman year and continue to grow as a person.

Gap years are not for everyone, but they should be considered a viable alternative to going straight to college. My hope is that society recognizes the immense possibilities bridge years can hold.

alumni

Ally Hansen

Senior Ally Hansen (pictured above, center) gave the following speech to 330 guests at Rowland Hall's biennial auction March 16. After she shared her story, a paddle raise garnered $88,050 for school financial aid. Thank you to Ally for her heartfelt words, and to our generous donors for empowering wonderful students like her to attend Rowland Hall.

I’ve been attending Rowland Hall since seventh grade, but before that I’d attended the same public school since kindergarten. It was considered small, yet it was almost twice the size of Rowland Hall’s middle and upper schools combined. Despite the size, I never really fit into the community. It was uninviting, unaccepting, and relatively unfriendly. I didn’t like it there very much, and wanted an escape. I looked at other options for middle school, but they were limited. 

A friend told me about Rowland Hall and I looked into it. I quickly realized it wouldn’t be an option for me, as there was no way I could afford it. Then, another friend—a Rowland Hall junior with whom I played competitive basketball—told me about the Malone Scholarship. So I applied, and here I am six years later.

Rowland Hall gave me something no other place had ever given me: a sense of belonging. I felt happy with who I was, quirks and all.

At my previous school, I was always the tomboy. I didn’t want to walk around talking about clothes or boys during recess; I wanted to play football on the back field instead. But I was never really included anywhere—the boys wouldn’t let a girl play with them, and the girls thought I was weird. During my first few weeks at Rowland Hall, I met this boy and one of the very first things he asked me was if I wanted to throw a football with him during recess. He is now one of my very best friends. This is just one example of the warm, loving, and accepting community I was quickly welcomed into. Rowland Hall gave me something no other place had ever given me: a sense of belonging. I felt happy with who I was, weird quirks and all. 

Rowland Hall made me realize my true potential and gave me all the tools I needed to be successful. I played basketball my two years in Middle School and all four years in the Upper School, making varsity my freshman year. This last year, I was lucky enough to be elected team captain. I was a good leader because I always led by example. I knew that if I did what I was supposed to, then others would follow in my footsteps. Also, I always pushed for “better” and never wanted to settle for “good enough.” Rowland Hall taught me what a real leader looks like, so when it was my turn to step into those shoes I knew exactly what to do.

Ally Hansen takes a jump shot in a basketball game.

Ally Hansen takes a jump shot in a January 10 basketball game.

I’ve been able to write my own ticket because of the education Rowland Hall provides. When I enrolled in Rowland Hall, I couldn’t have even imagined how great my life would turn out.

Lastly, Rowland Hall opened my eyes to all of the opportunities out there—ways to become the most successful person I can be. The school community made me feel like I was good enough to pursue my dreams. I’d been dead set on attending the University of Utah as long as I can remember. But my truly amazing counselors, teachers, and friends exposed me to the idea of expanding my horizons and considering other schools. Now, I’ll be attending Arizona State University (ASU) in fall, majoring in sports journalism and pursuing a dream I’ve had since I was little: becoming a sportscaster. I would have never even looked at that college had it not been for that very same seventh-grade friend who asked me to throw the football (he’s the one who told me about ASU), and for Rowland Hall, which opened my eyes to new possibilities.

My whole life is different because of my scholarship. I now have four of the most amazing friends anyone could ask for and I’ve been able to write my own ticket because of the education Rowland Hall provides. When I enrolled in Rowland Hall, I couldn’t have even imagined how great my life would turn out. None of this would have been possible without the Malone Family Foundation’s generosity. I will be forever grateful. I only hope that other people will be able to have the same opportunities and experiences I did. But for many, Rowland Hall is not a financial option without the generosity of people like you. So tonight, I ask you to please get out your phones and give generously to support future students like me. Thank you.

scholarships

College Counseling Ambassadors

By Coral Azarian, associate director of College Counseling, Student Council advisor, and a 2017 graduate of the Gardner Carney Leadership Institute (gcLI) Leadership Lab

Republished from gcLi with permission; this version lightly edited.

In the late ’90s, John Christensen visited the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. He watched fishmongers toss massive fresh catches to one another while effortlessly interacting with throngs of tourists, and realized that despite the smiles, jokes, and radiating positivity, throwing heavy fish for an audience all day was tedious work.

Yet the experience for everyone was always happy, because regardless of variables—from bad weather to long work shifts—the fishmongers were always happy. They were always positive; they were always present; they actively sought ways to make their audience’s experience memorable; and they always had fun.

Leadership is complex, but at its core, it should be something we enjoy. Successful leaders are consistent and have fun, and we should instill that in our students. People who embrace that philosophy are more impactful and sustainable leaders than those motivated by expectation alone.

For the last four years, I’ve worked as Rowland Hall’s associate director of College Counseling. In the fall, our office is dedicated to supporting the needs and nurturing the anxieties of over 70 seniors, and we often find ourselves at a loss as to how to serve everyone to the fullest degree.

The last straw was when one admissions representative visited our school without meeting a single one of our students. He represented a college that my colleague and I knew would be a great fit for a number of our seniors, but because it wasn’t in the 25 perennial favorite “reach” schools of students and their parents, no one signed up. The representative was instead left to meet with my colleague and me. This experience, along with the daily stress of meeting the needs of students and visitors, inspired our College Counseling Ambassadors program.

The tenets—choosing your attitude, being present, finding small ways to make someone else’s day, and infusing fun into your work—serve as the perfect platform for a student-leadership program.

So what does a new student-leadership program have to do with fishmongers? Well, with my unwritten but foremost job responsibility being relationship building, I live my own version of the fishmonger’s story every day. The FISH! philosophy, the leadership theory that Christensen developed as a result of his Pike Place observations, is now used by organizations the world over. It’s a natural match for Rowland Hall. The tenets—choosing your attitude, being present, finding small ways to make someone else’s day, and infusing fun into your work—serve as the perfect platform for a student-leadership program.

Our ambassador team began with a group of second-semester sophomores who completed applications and interviews and participated in two months of training. Each ambassador developed a campus tour highlighting their unique Rowland Hall experience, then conducted mock tours with their peers and provided constructive feedback to ensure everyone would lead successful visits. Starting in the fall, they turned that training into concrete leadership as they adapted to last-minute schedule changes, guided peers on what to expect while talking with college reps, and synthesized and relayed institutional highlights in weekly emails to entice seniors to attend college meetings.

As the semester progressed, their confidence grew, and I witnessed—while they experienced—the FISH! philosophy in action:

Choose Your Attitude

We all have days when things don’t seem to be going right. For our ambassadors, this might  mean they overslept or have anxiety over a test. But when it’s time to don that nametag and welcome college reps to campus, ambassadors choose to have a positive attitude. They ensure guests leave knowing more about Rowland Hall, and that their time here was valued. This is a major goal of the program and a key component in developing students’ abilities to be positive leaders.

For our ambassadors, being there doesn’t just mean showing up on time. It means staying engaged throughout a rep’s visit, asking questions during their presentation, and cultivating curiosity about the opportunities an institution provides.

Be There

Our students exist in a culture that is constantly propelling them forward, providing little reward for being present and getting out from behind a screen. For our ambassadors, being there doesn’t just mean showing up on time. It means staying engaged throughout a rep’s visit, asking questions during their presentation, and cultivating curiosity about the opportunities an institution provides, even if they don’t think it would be a great fit for them personally. Being there also manifests in an ambassador’s ability to think on their feet and adjust to schedule changes. Focusing on the present helps them adapt to unplanned or less-than-ideal situations.

Make Their Day

Emotional intelligence is an important component of leadership development. For our ambassadors, this takes shape when they find small ways to make reps special. Ambassadors ensure that reps have the opportunity to set their bags down or get a drink of water before their tour. They also send reps handwritten thank-you cards. Helping our ambassadors develop the emotional intelligence to read and respond to situations empowers them to make others feel valued.

Play

Ambassadors may not be be enthusiastic about every college they’re assigned, and they may not always be jazzed about drafting yet another email on what they learned about a university. But we can still have fun. Celebrating successes—whether by hosting our end-of-semester breakfast or by sharing compliments paid to ambassadors via post-visit surveys—is an important practice that our lead ambassadors (a new component of the program this year) are now adopting. Taking a step back to find joy in your work is an important facet of leadership.

So as I kick off my 27th school year (as a student and counselor) with a new crop of ambassadors and our first crew of lead ambassadors, I’m energized by the enthusiasm of my students diving in headfirst. Our lead ambassadors are learning how to mentor our new folks, and in each interaction, I see them actively choosing positivity, finding ways to make each other’s day, and exploring new opportunities to infuse play into every aspect of the program.

Coral graduated from the gcLi Leadership Lab in 2017. The lab, by presenting a foundation in developmental psychology and brain science, helps educators develop the ability to identify, utilize, and create teachable moments to transform individuals, classrooms, sports teams, and whole schools.

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