We are thrilled to highlight Willamette University, an Oregon university that is a proud institutional partner of College Possible. We connected with Zachery Brown, assistant director of admission, to talk about Willamette’s admissions practices and philosophy and some of the experiences he’s had working with College Possible students. Thank you, Zach, for sharing your thoughtful perspectives!
Interview with Zachery Brown, assistant director of admission
What is your favorite part of your role, or, what drew you to work in admissions?
I love getting to see the dreams of students come to fruition! I was a first-generation college student myself and being able to attend a college very much like Willamette was truly life-changing for me. I love that I get to pay that energy forward and help support students in their own college search and admissions journey with all the students I work with, even if they don’t end up choosing Willamette. But for the ones that do, seeing them grow from when I met them to when they graduate is such a treat and makes me so grateful for my small role in helping them get there.
As the assistant director of admission, part of my role is to manage Willamette’s partnerships with community-based organizations (CBOs) like College Possible. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest in the interview when I learned about this responsibility because access to higher education is something that I am super passionate about and think about quite often. I feel really lucky that I get to support all of the work that those CBOs do and work with folks on the front lines of connecting with students so directly.
When you think about welcoming a group of students from programs like College Possible to campus, what are some priorities or values that shape your approach?
My biggest priority is just to be genuine and honest. I think far too often the college search process can feel really sterile, or formal in ways that don’t actually help a 17–18-year-old really understand what a campus and school community is actually like, before they commit to going to a school for four years. So, for me, being genuine and connecting with students like they are people (because they are!) more than only thinking of them as prospective students goes a long way, regardless of who the students are or what kind of experiences they may be bringing to the conversation.
What is a moment or conversation that stands out to you in a recent campus visit with students?
I’ve been referencing a particular conversation with a student whom I interviewed last fall a lot lately, so I’d love to share it here. We were talking about what major the student was thinking of, and I asked if they were thinking of coming in undecided. The student stopped me and said that they preferred to use the term “undiscovered” and that made so much sense to me. Often, students aren’t given the kind of flexibility in course selection within the high school setting to really understand the differences between all the different programs out there. So, it’s not really that they haven’t decided what to focus their studies on, but rather they haven’t discovered what pathway or subject area sparks their passion.
Are there any growth areas or challenges that are top-of-mind for you as you think about the next season in admissions at Willamette?
There are quite a few challenges that higher education faces in the U.S. today, from racial and other social justice inequities to soaring costs of attendance, and students simply questioning the value of college, just to name a few. There’s also the advent of AI features like Chat GPT which are very hot-button topics for discussion in the field right now. Ultimately, though, I believe that Willamette is poised to be a leader as we work to address each of these tension points.
At the end of the day, the well-being of students will always be our priority. At risk of sounding too corny, I’ll recite the Willamette motto: “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.” This notion that we aren’t in this world alone really drives us here at Willamette, and that dedication to building new opportunities for students, leveraging institutional resources and making meaningful impact in the world is something that I can truly say is a priority for everyone on campus. With that kind of mindset, I think we have a lot of collective hope that we will be able to face any challenge the world throws our way next.