The First-Person Project

Christine (Leland) Williams ’01

Woburn, MA

Associate Director of Admissions, Simmons College School of Library and Information Science, Boston

Major: English

I grew up in Windsor, Connecticut, and knew I wanted to be a teacher from the age of five. My grandmother was a teacher and loved it. I loved kids, I loved being in charge, and it just seemed like a natural fit. I checked out every single state school in New Hampshire and Vermont, and most in Connecticut and Massachusetts as well. I only applied to two schools, Keene and Westfield State, and luckily got into both – but I knew Keene was where I wanted to be.

When I started at Keene, my major was elementary education. Education students had to choose a second major, and I knew I wanted to work with language arts, helping kids learn to read and love to read, so I majored in English as well. I had some great English professors – Bill Stroup, Kirsti Sandy, Nona Feinberg. I’d take English courses based more on who was teaching them than on the subject matter. I tell people now that I took a year’s worth of intensive Shakespeare, and they’re surprised. But they don’t know how Professor Feinberg taught the course – the passion and the language, the vocabulary she used, the excitement. She made it so much more interesting than I ever thought it would be. I took a course on the Victorian novel with Professor Stroup, and read things I never would have chosen for myself. It was a good way to get introduced to different genres.

My education courses were also terrific, but when I got to Methods – the second-to-last class before student teaching – that was sort of the tipping point. It had an internship component in a local classroom. I wanted to be in a second- to fourth-grade language arts classroom, but I was placed in a sixth-grade math and science classroom. Everything I’d been working toward in college was supposed to be confirmed by this experience, and instead it confirmed that I really didn’t want to go into teaching. That’s almost as valuable as knowing what you do want to do. I’m so thankful for the second-major requirement. I was able to drop education and still graduate on time with a bachelor’s in English.

English is the anything and everything degree. The skills – writing, communicating, analyzing – are applicable in lots of fields. As it turned out, I use those skills all the time, but it was my involvement outside of academics at Keene State that led to the career I’m in now.

I was a tour guide for a couple of years, vice president of my class junior and senior years, and a resident assistant in the Owl’s Nests for two years. Those experiences are what put me on the path to working in higher education. The summer after graduation, I had a couple of part-time jobs at Keene State, one in the Alumni Office and one in Residential Life. I was waiting to hear if I’d been accepted into AmeriCorpsNCCC, a year-long volunteer service program. I’d learned about the program while working with Habitat for Humanity on three Alternative Spring Break trips. When I found out I’d been wait-listed for AmeriCorps, I decided to look for a full-time job. A woman who worked in Res Life helped me land my first real job, working in admissions at Dublin School, a boarding school just down the road from Keene. I worked there for a year, but it wasn’t the best fit for me at the time. My dad suggested I look into the library and information science program at Simmons, thinking a library science degree would be a good way for me to work with kids and share my love of reading. So I applied and got ready to move to Boston, and at the same time my former residence director at Keene State connected me to someone she knew at Simmons. My resume was passed along and instead of enrolling, I took a job in graduate admissions.

I did take one class in library science – that’s when I realized how smart librarians are. You need to have the answers for everything, and if you don’t know the answer you have to find it. I love working with librarians, but I can’t see myself as a librarian. Instead I got my master’s in communications management at Simmons, which has been really useful for my work in admissions.

I was first hired as assistant director of admissions for the School of Library and Information Science, and after almost nine years in that position was I promoted to associate director. The job has changed over the years. When I started, I did a lot of application processing. Now things are more automated. I’m the operations manager for the office, so I make sure the decision letters go out on time, and I coordinate any changes that need to be made to the application form. I handle visas and other issues for international students. I also travel a lot, representing the program at graduate school fairs. I manage projects from both a macro and a micro perspective. We have a three-person office, so we all pretty much do a little bit of everything.

Working in graduate admissions enables to me to remain in education, but in an indirect way. If prospective students want to work in the field of library and information science, I help them take the next steps toward achieving that goal. I help them see how some of their past experiences may make this field a perfect fit for them. People think being a librarian is about story time for kids. And it is, but only about five percent of the time.

There are a lot of stereotypes about librarians, but the reality is that the field attracts lots of different kinds of people. What fascinates them about the field of library science? That’s what we ask potential students to explain in their applications. Libraries aren’t going away; they’re just changing. With all the advances in technology, you have to figure out new ways to manage information. The field of archives is very popular right now. How do you archive an email? A tweet? It’s not only figuring out how to preserve it, but also how to make it accessible for people.

I come back to Keene State about once a year to talk with students who are looking at grad school. I love being able to go back to campus with a different perspective. I still get the same feeling in my heart when I go. The College holds so many great memories for me. It’s amazing to be involved even though I’m not a student any longer. Several years ago I was a member of the alumni board, and it was fun to spend time with other people who feel the exact same way.

So I really have stepped from one thing to the next in my career, beginning with my work as an RA and my part-time jobs in Res Life and the Alumni Office at Keene State. It really shows how valuable networking is. Being an RA is also how I met my husband Bill. We were on the Owl’s Nest staff together and became friends, but lost touch after graduation. We reconnected about ten years ago and now have a three-year-old daughter. He was a safety major, and now he works for Lockheed Martin as an occupational safety and health contractor to the FAA.

Looking back at college, graduate admissions never would have occurred to me as a career, but I really enjoy it. I still remember the day I came to the realization that I didn’t want to pursue classroom teaching anymore. I called my parents, sobbing. I also remember that when I got off the phone with them I had the biggest sense of relief. It was almost like I didn’t even realize I’d been holding my breath. That’s when I knew I’d made the right decision. I’ve never regretted it.