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Expanding Possibilities: A Conversation with Smith’s Dean of Admission
When Deanna Dixon ’88, Smith’s dean of admission, talks to prospective students and families about the college, she likes to describe Smith as “the institution of ‘Yes!’”
“Because no matter what a student is interested in, there is support for that endeavor here,” Dixon says.
As an alumna and a longtime member of Smith’s admission staff, Dixon has a unique lens on the college’s efforts to engage young women of promise. Formerly associate director of admission and coordinator of multicultural recruitment, she was named dean of admission following a national search last spring.
Here’s what Dixon had to say about the college’s admission initiatives.
Why do students choose to apply to Smith?
“For a long time, many applicants said they were attracted to Smith not mainly because it’s a women’s college, but because of the quality of our academic environment. And while that’s still true for some, recent research has shown that young women are more open to the idea of a women’s college than they were, say, when I was a student here.
“We hear anecdotally that as they are leaving high school, many young women are now thinking about the overall climate of our country—how women are banding together and speaking up about issues such as #MeToo. Many students are inspired to continue in that vein. I like to think that makes women’s colleges a more interesting option for them.”
How do you reach prospective students?
“Relationships are still really important to our efforts—maintaining and building relationships with secondary school counselors and community organizations. In recent years, we’ve been able to introduce the idea of a women’s college to more students and share what’s distinctive about Smith. We are also exploring new ways to do outreach. For example, I participated in a webinar in October with community-based organizations that engage students. It’s great to be able to take advantage of technology to reach people.”
How is your department helping to increase access to a Smith education?
“Cost can be a barrier—an issue that is not unique to Smith, and one we are committed to addressing. We pay close attention to the needs of students from underrepresented groups by including conversations about campus support and belonging when appropriate. We need to understand what students are experiencing and provide the resources that will help them thrive at Smith. That’s a bigger job than [the] Admission [Office] for sure, but Admission can’t ignore those expectations as a piece of the college-going experience.”
What’s the most important thing you tell prospective students about Smith?
“I like to describe Smith as being the institution of ‘Yes!’ because no matter what a student is interested in, there is support for that endeavor here. Our open curriculum is more than just the courses you take. It’s also a frame of mind—you take that independence to other parts of your Smith experience.
“To students who are asking, ‘What do I want to do and what do I want to become?’ my message is, there are people and resources here to help you find the answers. We are going to work with you to make things possible.”
What do you like best about your work in admission?
“I am passionate about women’s colleges and the transformative role they play in the lives of young women. For me, when a student recognizes that for themself and the lightbulb goes off—especially for someone who many never have aspired to be at a place like Smith, but is taking the chance to apply—that’s the reward.”