Laurie Koehler, vice president for marketing and enrollment strategy, joined Ithaca College’s senior leadership team Aug. 7.
Koehler most recently served as senior vice provost for enrollment and the student experience at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She has previously lived in Ithaca while working at Cornell University.
News Editor Madison Fernandez sat down with Koehler to discuss her first month at the college and her plans to engage with the campus community to help strengthen the college’s enrollment strategy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Madison Fernandez: I know that you’re no stranger to the higher-ed world. How do you plan to take your experiences that you’ve had and implement it here at IC?
Laurie Koehler: I think every institution is different, and so there’s no blueprint to bring from one school to another. I think I’ve seen people make that mistake. I’ve probably made that mistake in my past at some point, just thinking you can take what you did somewhere else and just overlay it into a new place. … There’s no secret master plan. Right now, I’m doing a lot of listening and trying to learn as much as I can about Ithaca College.
MF: What are your initial impressions of the Ithaca College community?
LK: Well, it’s funny the way you even asked the question, the first word that came to mind was community. … I have been just so taken by the connections that I see. … What made an impression on me was the way that the students engaged with each other. … There’s an authenticity about it that felt really meaningful. I felt like I was at home already, which is not always the case when you’re the newbie, right?
MF: From a student’s perspective, a lot of high-level administration can seem sort of distant. I was wondering if you had any plans to engage with the campus community going forward, especially with the students?
LK: Absolutely. That’s super important to me, and one of the reasons I wanted to come here. … How are we all part of the community if we don’t know our students? How can we be effective at enrolling them and retaining them and making sure that they graduate and have a great experience here? … That’s the joy from my work, and that’s what brings the meaning to it — making a difference for the institution to affect students directly.
MF: Going back to when you decided to come to the college, can you talk about that decision process of leaving everything?
LK: It was hard, but it wasn’t hard. My family will always be there. My wife and I have an adult son and daughter-in-law and two grandkids, and my mom and siblings are all in northern Virginia. I kind of figured we would be there for the rest of the duration. … To see what was happening here and to start reading about the strategic planning process that was unbelievably transparent and inclusive, … I’ve been in a number of schools, and I can’t say that I’ve seen a process that was, you know, really put it out there to engage. It was this kind of combination of factors that made me excited and made me feel like this is a place that also has values really aligned with mine around access and affordability and not being afraid to take kind of informed data-driven bold risks.
MF: I know you haven’t been here for too long, but what have you been working on so far, and what are your goals for this year?
LK: My goals … are really to be aligned with the strategic plan and implementation of that plan. … I’ve spent a lot of time in my first four weeks digging into data to understand patterns, trends and our processes. A lot of it is also just going to be assessing where each of our teams is, what resources we have, where we might need to shift those or add resources or do things differently.
MF: In terms of significant data, what statistic do you think is the most indicative of an institution’s success?
LK: If you had to pick one, for me, it would be graduation rate. … I think often in the world of college admissions, for example, there’s such a heavy emphasis on admit rate — how selective are you? … There are ways to make yourself more selective … that aren’t really meaningful. … So to me, what matters is finding great fit students, students who are going to thrive at IC, and then making sure that we provide the kind of experience that has them graduating.
MF: What’s one thing that you’d like the campus community to know about yourself that they might not know otherwise?
LK: I think people know I’m a first-generation college student. … I grew up with an amazing mom and siblings and where there was an expectation that we were going to go to college, because my dad, that was his wish for us before he died. … I ended up in the financial aid office regularly when I was an undergraduate. … I can’t help but bring that lens to everything that I do, and it’s part of why I feel so passionate about this work.