Pride of Place
Kate O’Connor – Lasell’s VP for Enrollment Management
Growing up in modest surroundings in Manhasset, NY on Long Island, Kathleen O'Connor was expected to go to college - but her surprisingly random path to choosing a school was both instructive and foundational as she shaped a career in higher education.
Her desire to support students may have been sparked by Sister Athanasius -the quasi high school guidance counselor who rejected young O'Connor's first three ideas for study after graduation (Math - not for women, History - too dry, Physical Education - not appropriate for the long-term).
Feeling a little discouraged, the high school senior accompanied her best friend home after school where a pile of college catalogs awaited them. She picked the one on top of the pile [Regis College], which her friend had visited.
"She said they liked it [and] I liked that it wasn't close to home," says O'Connor. The friend's mother even filled out the application for her.
It turned out to be a good fit and the small college empowered her to take a leadership role.
"Students can get very bad or very good advice [about college]; some are very smart, but get a late start," says the Regis alum. "It always comes down to making the college name well-known enough so that when someone says, ‘Have you heard of it?' Someone else can say, ‘Yes, I have.'"
Following college, O'Connor tried on several adventures for size including a two-year stint on the crew (mostly male) of a luxury European cruise ship, submitted an application to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and considered law school. But the idea of working with students beckoned.
Fast forward past O'Connor's varied career turns in and outside of higher ed, an M.Ed from Lesley College, and an Ed.D from University of Massachusetts-Boston, to a 26-year career at Lasell, where she consistently trumpets support for undergraduates and graduates alike.
"What makes Lasell special is the student focus," O'Connor tells Leaves.
Shortly after her arrival in 1987, O'Connor became known as a fixer. As dean of admissions and financial aid, she saw applications rise-- but working with students was still more appealing. So, when the Dean of Student Affairs position opened up, she snatched it. Admissions, however, still needed attention.
"There was a real sense that it was time to make this place move," remembers O'Connor, who held both positions simultaneously for a period until she moved fully into Enrollment Management in 1995.
Helping Lasell raise its profile meant change - from a two-year to a four-year college and later, from a women's to a co-ed institution. It also meant the administrators needed to be resolute that the changes were right for Lasell. O'Connor took special care during those transitions to consult with students and visit them in their residence halls to discuss the issues.
Throughout the years Lasell's current Vice President for Enrollment Management has made it her mantra to advance Lasell and its students. But her favorite memories revolve around times when she supported a student directly - whether urging a student to recognize her leadership potential or
helping to address a substance abuse problem.
"The most rewarding times are at Commencement, when you know what they have overcome to get that degree, and they still walk across that stage," she says.
Those graduation ceremonies span several decades for O'Connor-- from when 400 students roamed the campus and a handshake was as good as a promise, to today -- where a growing number of undergraduate and graduate students can read tweets from Boomer -- the College's mascot.
O'Connor's most distinctive legacy may be her sense of Lasell's history, her institutional memory.
Beyond her hobbies, which include Caper - the lovable Golden Retriever who sits at her feet -- to gardening at her Needham home, O'Connor is widely known on campus as one who remembers everything about Lasell. And, if she doesn't, she'll find out!
This sense of pride also radiates to her regular care and feeding of the campus and its students - whether serving them pancakes at Midnight Breakfast, planting new trees, or picking up candy wrappers from the sidewalk.
"I believe you need to own the place," she says. "Lasell pays attention to the important things."