Spotlight on the Office of Student Affairs

For the staff at the Office of Student Affairs, it’s always “all hands on deck.”

Melissa Friedman, Director of Admissions (Credit: Alonso Nichols for Tufts University)

“There’s never really a time when we’re not busy,” said Katherine Vosker, Director of Student Affairs. “Everyone has to be really resourceful and proactive.”

And with good reason! The Office of Student Affairs is a wide-reaching division, encompassing Student Affairs, Admissions, and Enrollment Services, which oversees Financial Aid and the Office of the Registrar. The entire division is administered by Dr. Robert Kasberg, Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs. Each segment of the office also has its own director. In addition to Katherine Vosker, Sandra Pearson is the Director of Enrollment Services (overseeing Financial Aid and the Office of the Registrar), and Melissa Friedman is the Director of Admissions.

“We try to stress that we are a team. We have our individual roles and responsibilities, but we all pitch in to assist everyone else,” Friedman said. “We’re not afraid to get our hands dirty.”

Each segment of the office handles a different mission. Vosker said her office’s primary role is to enrich and facilitate the student experience; Pearson said her office’s mission is to preserve data integrity and simplify and streamline processes; and Friedman said her goals are to bring in the most qualified and diverse student body and get the word out about the terrific work done at the school. All three positions feed into the central mission: to have the student experience be as smooth and pleasant as possible, from beginning to end.

“We can’t say every single interaction with the students will be a positive one,” Pearson said. “But we all understand our responsibility to our students, and that doing our jobs well will make their experience better.”

The Office of Student Affairs accomplishes many of the day-to-day tasks, large and small, which are critical to running the school but most students are rarely privy to. Friedman used Admissions Officer Danielle Christie, who developed the processes related to the new paperless applications, as just one example.

“Our D.M.D. program would not be running without Danielle. Period,” Friedman said. She developed all our new processes based on what made sense for us, and got it down to a science. This is daunting work, but it’s work that we enjoy.”

The paperless application system is just one of the changes and challenges the Office faced recently.  Pearson officially took on oversight of Financial Aid and the Office of the Registrar in July, after six months of transitions. But the largest challenge, by far, came from the iSIS conversion project, which replaced the old record management system that had been in place since 1987.  The entire team faced significant changes and a steep learning curve as part of the conversion process. Once overcome, however, Pearson and Vosker are hopeful that the new system will be a significant improvement: students are now able to make changes directly to their personal information, and eventually faculty will have access to post grades more quickly and efficiently.

“We’re going to phase in changes based on iSIS slowly over time, to let people adjust,” Pearson said. “If we document everything adequately, change our business processes thoughtfully and take baby steps, iSIS will have a hugely positive impact.”

Pearson said the longevity of many of the staff members of the office, and their shared experience working for TUSDM contributes to the success of the school as a whole. Pearson has been with the school for 26 years, while her colleagues Vosker and Friedman have been here 12 years and nine years, respectively. Through that time, they’ve seen Deans and Presidents come and go, clinic renovations be completed and the creation of the vertical expansion project.

“Having gone through so many changes together, we really respect each other’s experience and what each person has to contribute,” Pearson said.

The office also highly values its relationships with other departments at the school and the university; all three directors mentioned the “Tufts family” and how they fit into it. Pearson and Vosker used another metaphor of Tufts as a giant jigsaw puzzle.

“We’re all individual pieces of this Tufts puzzle,” said Vosker. “We can’t work just on our own, we need everyone else to fit together to create the entire picture.”

The words that come up most often in conversations about Student Affairs are “fun” and “focused.” All three department heads agree that the department retains a professional environment, but a friendly, collegial one as well.

“While we are a social group, we are not always chatting around the water cooler,” Vosker said. “But we’re all friends. And mainly we’re always helping each other. You never hear the phrase, ‘That’s not my job.’”