By Madeleine Thompson
Jennifer Delahunty has sent out thumps-up letters to thousands of students around the world. After 11 years as the vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid, Delahunty is leaving Gambier for a position as associate dean of the West Coast. “What I’m hoping to do is to represent Kenyon in an immediate way by being on the ground on the West Coast,” said Delahunty, who will stay on as dean of admissions until her replacement is found. “There are more than 80 colleges that have West Coast regional representation, so I think this is part of the larger trend.”
“She has an extraordinarily good handle, I think, on the kind of student that could make a contribution at Kenyon,” Dean of Students Hank Toutain said. “I think that has contributed enormously to what can only be described as an extraordinarily successful tenure.”
Delahunty arrived on the Hill the same year as former President S. Georgia Nugent, and since then has overseen a push for multicultural and socioeconomic diversity. Before Delahunty, there was no effort to recruit internationally. She has since headed the initiative to invest more time and effort into this sector. “The assignment when I came in was to make Kenyon better-known, to raise its profile on a national and international level,” Delahunty said. “The quest for making Kenyon a more diverse place was also part of the assignment — to make Kenyon look more like the rest of America and the world.”
Two years ago, Sonya Broeren was hired in the newly-created position of associate director of admissions and international recruiting — the Office of Admissions’ attempt to resolve the diversity gap.“Originally, it was really hit or miss,” Broeren said. “There was no strategic plan [for] where are we going to recruit. It was more like we were invited to programs and we were like, ‘Oh yeah, that sounds great.’ We also weren’t coordinating with faculty who were going abroad, and that was one of my visions.”
This year, Professor of Religious Studies Miriam Dean-Otting interviewed a prospective student in Jerusalem, where she is on sabbatical. Broeren called Delahunty a “pioneer” for her support and advocacy for global outreach. The new and improved international recruiting plan involves an international student advisory board to work with international students currently on campus, collaborating with the Provost’s Office to utilize travelling faculty and increasing Skype interview opportunities. “We’re hitting continents we’ve never been on before,” Broeren said, listing places such as South America, Central America and South Africa.
The recent rise in application numbers were not only the result of well-focused recruiting efforts but also the move to get rid of the application supplement — its removal led to a 63-percent rise in applications. It was one of the more controversial moves of Delahunty’s tenure, but she continues to stand behind the decision.
“Students were giving us very coarse supplements, reasons [for] ‘Why Kenyon?’ and we were admitting them, and then there were students who were giving us really great ‘Why Kenyon? [responses] and we were denying them,” Delahunty said. “So it’s sort of like a non-critical element in our decision-making.” She noted that the rate of students starting and completing the Kenyon Common Application has increased in the post-supplement era.
In the next dean of admissions, President Sean Decatur is looking for someone who will “recogniz[e] that analytics, research and data are key pieces of success in recruiting a class, but also that personal touches, human connection and creativity are essential as well,” he wrote in an email.
Delahunty hopes her successor will “keep the momentum going. … The direction [Decatur] wants is really up to him,” she said. “He’s doing some very big visioning kind of exercises, so I imagine he wants a partner who envisions what the future of Kenyon will look like.”
Delahunty, who came to Kenyon from the West Coast, deemed the move an opportunity to return to her roots. “It’s just sort of a, in many ways, a coalescing of personal and professional,” Delahunty said. Working with students is Delahunty’s favorite part of the job, and stepping into this new role will enable her to do more of it. “I think the College really needs some new leadership in terms of admissions,” she said. “I think I’ve done what I can do, and now I think an infusion of new leadership and energy will be really good for Kenyon.”