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Jennie Taylor: Enjoying growth at Oxford College

Jennie Taylor is associate dean of enrollment services at Oxford College. Emory Photo/Video.

As associate dean of enrollment services at Oxford College, Jennie Taylor loves the fact that no academic year will be exactly the same as the last — change and challenge are simply part of the job.

This year was no exception. Oxford College received a record-breaking number of applicants for fall 2012 admittance. To date, more than 6,200 students have applied for about 480 spots at Oxford College this coming fall, up 59 percent over last year.

Taylor couldn't be more pleased with those numbers.

From her office in Eady Admissions Center, Taylor oversees the cycle of admission and recruitment, financial aid, records and registration for all Oxford students; many recognize and warmly greet her as she strolls the Oxford quad. That close-knit sense of community is something she values here.

For Taylor, Emory is a family affair. She began her Emory career at Oxford College in 1978 as director of admissions. Her husband, Ron Taylor, retired last year as associate vice president for Campus Life. Her daughters both graduated from Emory.

Taylor reflects upon what has kept her engaged at Oxford College for over three decades:

Oxford College has just seen record-high applications. What's going on?

Actually, Emory University has done a great job in strategic planning and marketing of the "One Voice" approach to Emory's undergraduate educational options. We are one Emory with two distinct options for entering students. Our staffs train together and talk about how we present the University with two options. I think it's beginning to pay off. It is now less confusing and easier for students to apply to both campuses with one fee, and more students are now selecting both.

What will that mean for Oxford College this fall?

This will probably be the first year we can really shape the class, rather than just filling the class. We'll be able to evaluate what the students bring, as far as academic qualities, interests, and ethnic and racial diversity. For nearly the first time ever, we are starting to see students admitted on the Atlanta campus but wait-listed at Oxford. It's very exciting, but also a little daunting — we haven't been in this position before.

Why are more students choosing Oxford? What do they find here?

I think Oxford offers that classic small campus environment in a close-knit community within a challenging, rigorous and supportive academic environment. Students here enjoy being part of a smaller, diverse community where they have numerous opportunities for leadership during their first two years of college. They can experience that, but also move on to be part of a major research university. They can have it both ways, get both experiences. Oxford College is unique. We don't compete with or resemble any other two-year institution. There is really nothing exactly like it, where you have the same academic rigor and scholarship for a two-year period.

You've worked in admissions at Oxford for 33 years. What drew you here?

Actually, a colleague of mine worked here at the time and knew they had a director of admissions opening. I felt I was too young at that point — I was 25 — and thought I really needed a couple more years under my belt. So I interviewed and had a great time — the faculty and staff here were wonderful — but went away thinking, "I'm far too young for this position, I don't have any financial aid experience, but what a great opportunity to have this interview." When they offered me the job, I was absolutely shocked and thrilled, but torn about what to do. I remember my dad said, "Well, you need to think about this as an opportunity. Two or three years from now, you may want this opportunity, but it may not be available to you then. If they think that you can do this job and do it well, then you need to trust that and know that you can. Go do it." That's basically why I took the position. And I have loved it ever since — the people and the community.

You left Oxford only briefly — to work on the Atlanta campus. What brought you back?

I left here in 1982 to be the director of undergraduate financial aid on the Atlanta campus. I was there four years, then this position opened again. I recognize that I loved the balance of working with admissions and financial aid. Really being excited, working to bring students in, being creative in finding ways to help them pay for college. That's such a wonderful opportunity for an admissions office, to see the student's full cycle. Typically, that does not happen. It's very rewarding, and one of the things I like best. In an admissions office, the minute this class enters you're normally working on the next one. And we are, too, but we also have the opportunity, with the way our office is set up, to be in constant contact with current students. In my opinion, that's a real benefit of being here. The opportunities and challenges that arise each year keep it fresh and new.

Everyone at Oxford seems to know you. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about Jennie Taylor.

I am avid top collector. I have a huge collection, all kinds — spinning tops, wooden tops, plastic, dreidels, ones that sing "Happy Birthday" to you. I even have one that our dean (Stephen Bowen), who enjoys woodworking, that was made from the wood he found around Oxford. I've had them for years. I love to, bring them out at Christmas for family and friends, and we'll sit around and spin all the tops. I actually have a few on my desk and I'll do this at work too, if I'm having a difficult conversation on the phone. I love to play.

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