New Enrollment VP: “We Have A Lot of Great Stories to Tell”
Joseph E. Howard joined Widener University this summer as vice president of enrollment. He joins the Pride after spending six years as vice president for enrollment at Mercyhurst University.
In his new role at Widener, Howard leads the university’s main campus undergraduate and graduate admissions efforts, and other enrollment services, such as financial aid and the registrar offices, to leverage the successes and creativity of each area. He will work to ensure Widener provides innovative, individualized services for current and prospective students, and position the university to anticipate and respond to future students’ expectations and needs. He reports to Widener President Julie E. Wollman.
We recently caught up with Howard to chat about his new role.
Welcome to Widener! What drew you to working at a university, and to Widener in particular?
As a first-generation college student, I’m routinely reminded of the ways a college degree fundamentally transformed my life and the opportunities available to me. I’ve been fortunate to play a role in the lives of other students as I grew as a college administrator. When the position at Widener came to my attention, I was impressed by the ways in which the university positions itself as a force for social mobility and civic good. Throughout the interview process, I saw many of my values reflected in the various colleagues with whom I met and the university’s overall strategy. I knew Widener was a place I wanted to join and further my career in higher education.
Your role with enrollment is a new one for the university. Tell us how your work will affect the student experience.
Much of my early focus revolves around understanding the experience of our prospective students and applicants, reducing friction in the college-going process, and reinforcing the university’s value proposition to students and their families. We have a lot of great stories to tell, and I’ll work with my colleagues to tell the right story, at the right time, to the right prospective student. Down the road, I’d also welcome the opportunity to teach from time-to-time to keep me connected to the student body.
Your work is frequently tied to data and numbers, from enrollment figures to financial aid to transcripts and more. How do you make sure students and their individual needs don’t get lost in the data?
Data should help inform who we’re reaching out to and with what messaging. First-generation students may need more assistance navigating the application and financial aid process. Students looking to transfer need information about the transferability of their past coursework. Nontraditional students may need reassurance about the availability of course offerings and services for commuters. By better understanding an applicant or student’s unique circumstances, we can better focus our outreach.
You have a reputation for being a strong team builder. What’s your secret?
We already have very strong, enthusiastic teams in undergraduate admissions, graduate and continuing studies admissions and enrollment, and enrollment services. I see my role as helping to mobilize resources and effort, navigate hurdles, and foster a spirit of ongoing innovation – and to do so from a position of transparency and advocacy.
There’s more to life than work. How do you unwind in your free time?
Now that pandemic restrictions are easing, I’m really looking forward to going to concerts, museums, and theater performances (especially as I get to know the area). I’m also a big podcast fan and consume a diverse range of content – Beautiful Anonymous, Heavyweight, Strict Scrutiny, and Planet Money are a few of my favorites.