Byerly Hall Provides Good Training for Would-be Administrators
Students know Byerly Hall, home of Harvard College Admissions and Financial Aid, as a gateway to education, but fewer know it as a place of learning in itself.
James S. Miller certainly wasn't expecting it to be one when he became a Harvard admissions officer in 1978.
"I thought I'd try it out for a year or so," he says, "And it turned into twenty."
Miller, who went on to become Harvard's longest-serving director of financial aid, departed in August to take a senior post in Brown University's development office.
"The time I have spent [in Harvard financial aid] has been really a joy and an honor," Miller says. "I deeply appreciated the chance to do it."
Miller's only the latest Byerly Hall official to leave for a more senior position. Much of the current and former University Hall brass was polished during stints at 8 Garden Street.
Admissions work, officials say, gives administrators experience judging people and a familiarity with the University's needs that prepares them well for other University work.
Towards John Harvard
Fred L. Glimp '50 and L. Fred Jewett '57 were both deans of admission before their tenures as deans of the College.
"[Byerly] is a fun place to work, a good place to work, and it's always interesting," Avery says. "I think it was a good training for my current job, just in terms of the familiarity with the College."
Avery recalls applying for a job in admissions in 1989 while also wanting to attend the Graduate School of Education. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitsimmons '67 and Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis '70 solved the dilemma by encouraging her to do both.
"They really worked hard to find a way to let me work there and continue my education," Avery says. "They didn't have to do that."
Avery says she learned a lot about assessing people and organizing information in her years at Byerly.
She says she was amazed by the capacity of the admissions staff to hold a lot of information in their memory--and even more amazed when she developed the same trait in
From Priest to Dean
Illingworth joined admissions in 1981 having already had one career as a parish priest in Maine.
"I thought I just needed a change from parish ministry, and I'd stay a couple of years and go back to it," Illingworth says. "Obviously, I changed my mind."
When considering a move to University Hall, Illingworth turned to his colleagues and former colleagues for advice, including Jewett and Avery.
"They were saying that they felt well prepared for their time in University Hall," Illingworth says. "[They] were very much saying that 'We think you should do it!'"
And so far the advice has paid off. Illingworth says that over the years in Byerly, he'd had the chance to work with many of the same people he now deals with in his new job.
More importantly, he says, is the understanding of students that he gained by learning about their backgrounds. He says he would advise other would-be administrators to get a similar preparation.
"I would absolutely send them in the direction of Byerly Hall," Illingworth says.
Rogers says that she considers learning new skills an essential component of the right job for her, and that it was the institutionalized mentoring at Byerly that kept her there for so long.
"I learned under Bill Fitzsimmons and Fred Jewett, and they were obviously the best possible teachers and mentors," Rogers says.
But in addition to general skills, the connections with alumni that Rogers developed while in Byerly proved handy when in 1990 she moved into fundraising for the college.
But even when she left Harvard briefly to work at an executive search consultant firm Rogers says the skills she learned in Byerly Hall came in handy.
"Doing presentations and being persuasive but honest were very helpful in the search world as well," Rogers says.
Isolating the Magic
"When one has worked here for a while, they may turn into what we call an all-arounder, in the adult sense," she says. "We often admit high-quality all-arounders in our applicant pool, but we have also produced high-quality all-arounders in the admissions office."
The skills gained in Byerly can help in almost any field, administrators say.
"They haven't all gone on to work at Harvard," Illingworth says. "I've seen former colleagues go into business, become doctors, lawyers, schoolteachers--they've had lots of different kinds of careers."
But the jobs aren't easy to get, Lewis says, comparing the odds of being selected for employment with those for admission to the college. Lewis says they will receive as many as 100 plausible applications for a posted position.
Christina Flint was a lucky one who worked in Byerly for six years. Like Avery, Illingworth and Rogers, Flint has moved on within Harvard--though on a less predictable path.
Flint is now coordinator of fellows and patrons at Harvard University Art Museums.
"I ended up finding out that what I got in Byerly was more than just a job," Flint says. "I would consider going back to admissions at some point."
McGrath Lewis says this loyalty is only typical for Harvard's most prolific proving ground for administrators.
"I told Bill Fitzsimmons when he asked me to take this job that I would stay for two years--and that was twelve years ago," Lewis says. "Nothing I have done at Harvard has been as interesting and rewarding as this work has been."