S.5 E.7: From Chemistry Major to Admissions Director

Learning for Life @ Gustavus host Greg Kaster interviews Gustavus alum and Associate Vice President for Enrollment management Richard Aune.
Posted on November 16th, 2020 by

Richard Aune, Gustavus Class of 1981 and the College’s Associate Vice President and Dean of Admission, on his path to Gustavus and eventually its admission office, the changes and continuities in that office over time, and the crucial, challenging, and rewarding work (now amid a pandemic hammering higher ed) of building a new entering class each year.

Season 5, Episode 7: From Chemistry Major to Admissions Director

How does a college or university build a new entering class year after year. What, in other words, does the admission process entail? And we might also ask how well admission directors sleep, especially these days or nights, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joining me to explore these and related questions is Rich Aune, Associate Vice President and Dean of admissions at Gustavus. A 1981 graduate of the college where he majored in Chemistry, Rich has over thirty years of experience in its admission office and has worked virtually every aspect of the admission process, including financial aid. I think it’s fair to say that sheet reports at faculty meetings are as eagerly anticipated as his. Rich, I know you’re so busy, thanks for taking time out of your schedule to join me and welcome to the podcast. Delighted to talk with you.

Rich Aune:

My pleasure, Greg. It’s great to be here and I hope I can provide some good information to the listeners.

Greg Kaster:

I know you will and I know we don’t have to reveal any trade secrets, so I understand.

Rich Aune:

No problem.

Greg Kaster:

Gosh, we’ve known each other well, I’ve been here thirty… I’ve been here almost as long as you’ve been in the admissions office.

Rich Aune:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Anyway, I like to begin with the person’s story. Your own story, where you grew up and how you made your way to Gustavus. Why Gustavus? And also, why Chemistry?

Rich Aune:

Happy to. So, I grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. I am one of four boys. My mom and dad, my dad was a teacher, high school teacher and as many people know my brother Greg, who worked here for numerous years and is retired, he has music acumen, came from my parents, my dad was a high school choir director. The interesting way in which I got here was there were two Gustavus alumnus who were members of our church of which my dad was the church choir director. Choir directors just find every gig they can possibly can, whether it’s a high school. And my mom was the organist actually. And they became very close friends. One was actually our head pastor, who has actually a long history at Gustavus. And the other was a physician in town whom I was, and I was interested in pre-health professions, thus the Chemistry major. And those two individuals took a Saturday morning and drove me down to visit Gustavus. I can honestly say that the Aune family had a pretty long tradition at Augsburg, all of my dad and all of his brothers and sisters. My brother Mark is an Augsburg grad. Greg is a Concordia grad. Rich is a Gustie and my younger brother Tim was blessed with some math genes that his older brothers weren’t and he’s an MIT graduate actually.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, wow.

Rich Aune

Rich Aune:

So, we have participated in lots of the ELCA higher education. As I mentioned, Chemistry was my desire to major in that as I was thinking about medical school. And I did get into medical school, my senior year at Gustavus and was approached by Owen Samuelson about a job of which I am forever grateful. I worked here for four years and then I was admitted into the University of Minnesota, Med school for the fall class of 1984 late in the summer, taken off the wait list. I had also married my beautiful wife and very important member of the Gustavus community, Tami, in that same summer. And we made the very wise choice that getting married and then deciding to do Med school three weeks later was not a good decision. So I took a, I waited a year and started med school in ’85. Tami worked as a junior scientist at the University of Minnesota at that time. I spent two and a half years at the University of Minnesota and towards the end of my second year after having passed the first part of the National Boards and Beginning Clinicals, I started to sense that maybe this is not, I made a mistake.

I wasn’t in my heart. I spent some time talking with the then dean of admission at the U of M and I smartly took a leave of absence, meaning, we had a great conversation, you’re doing the right thing. So I took some time to think about it and then eventually, that was in, let’s say ’86, ’87. Then for about six months I kind of wandered a little bit. Tami gave me permission to spend some time in Northern Minnesota in the woods, which is particularly important to me. And then that spring I started to work for a health plan, Physicians Health Plan. Those of you in Minnesota will remember that that’s was one of the first products of the UnitedHealthcare. I was a quality assurance coordinator. I went corporate and Tami maintained her work at the University of Minnesota. I did that for 15 to 18 months and then Mark Anderson reached out to me and in so many words said, we’d like you to come back. You’re not doing what you should be doing. And he was prophetically right. And then we returned in 1989 and have been back ever since, and both Tami I have had different positions related to our work. Some people know that we were the first head residents in ’84, ’85 in the renovated [ULA 00:06:52].

Greg Kaster:

I did know that. That’s one thing that I did know. Yeah.

Rich Aune:

And then Tami and I were head residents in ULA excuse me, Sorensen and Link along with Mark Hanson and Larry Moore for two years. And ’89, ’90 and 1991. And our first child Melissa was born and lived her first year of life in Sorensen hall and 18 years later became a freshmen at Gustavus. There was some destiny there. I have two-

Greg Kaster:

Oh, yeah. I think so.

Rich Aune:

… three beautiful children, two Gustavus grads, Melissa and Mari, and the third daughter McKenna who took some courses here, will still tell people that Will Freiert was one of the best professors she’s ever had, which I told her that was going to happen when she took a PSEO class here. She just recently graduated from Willamette University-

Greg Kaster:

Oh, yeah.

Rich Aune:

… under the guise of Gretchen Flesher Moon.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, sure.

Rich Aune:

And will probably be starting law school next year. So, that’s it.

Greg Kaster:

Did she major in classics out there or?

Rich Aune:

You know she did not. She’s a [Poly SI 00:07:59] major, but with a PSEO Greg, sometimes they don’t have a great deal of choice in-

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Rich Aune:

… and dad may have influenced her decision regarding whom I thought it would be a great person for her to understand. And she was a junior that year and I said, this will be a great introduction to what the expectations are going to be for the next- [crosstalk 00:08:29]

Greg Kaster:

That’s all great. That is all interesting. I mean, for listeners who don’t know Will Freiert, Emeritus Classics prof at Gustavus, one of the greats and Gretchen Flesher Moon who taught in the English department here before moving on to Atlanta. And then I always learn, I knew that about you being head residents because Kate and I came in ’86, Kate Wittenstein of the history department, but I did not know about the med school track.

Rich Aune:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

I’d literally just finished a book and the author writing the book sets out to do medical school and like you he was into it, maybe a year or two years and then just realizes it’s just not her and has the same kind of talk with her mentor and finds her way to a career that she truly loves. I just think it’s so interesting, it’s so important for especially young people to understand, right, that nothing is set in stone.

Rich Aune:

Tami’s story would be somewhat similar. She’s a Biology major from Gustavus actually, and a math minor. And if you remember, we used to run, oh we had the Apple store in a really [crosstalk 00:09:35]-

Greg Kaster:

Oh, yeah.

Rich Aune:

So she just basically self-taught herself in terms of Apple products, she was a math minor. And so from a Biology major graduating in 1982 to a chief technology officer in 2020, is another path that is, this is what we do, right?

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. It’s great.

Rich Aune:

We prepare you for a whole string of things that you maybe will, would never have thought you would be a part of, but you were and succeeded in doing that.

Greg Kaster:

Exactly so. That is so true. And I’d forgotten about the Apple store, I do remember, when Cate and I came we were PC people and then ultimately changed to Apple. And that’s when we really began to connect with Tami without whom there’s no Gustavus Technology. She’s the best.

Rich Aune:

That is true and her current staff.

Greg Kaster:

Yes. Oh yeah. And the staff and your staff as well. I want to, you mentioned Owen Sammelson and Mark Anderson who are two legendary figures at Gustavus in admissions and other areas as well. But, I wondered say a little bit about what it was like your first years in that office. What were you, I mean, [inaudible 00:10:58] was it a baptism by fire? I mean, how did it work.

Rich Aune:

No, we had great training. Bob Neuman, who’s still a stalwart member of the staff. I actually shared an office, Greg, with Stan Waldhauser.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, yeah.

Rich Aune:

Because Stan at the time was basically the sole Twin Cities representative for Gustavus. So he wasn’t on campus as much as I was. And between the both of us traveling a little bit, we shared an office which is, I’m trying to think now it might, it’s probably Curt Kowaleski’s space. But now, it was a lot different obviously-

Greg Kaster:

Right.

Rich Aune:

… the demographic part. But I would say that, there are a tremendous amount of similarities. The comradery, the passion that the admission office had for this institution. I, Sam, those who know him, he was and still is a tremendous asset to Gustavus. His skill set and what he, what, his historical memory of the place. And then followed by Mark Anderson, same mold. A little bit of a change in terms of, Sam then became, they created kind of a vice-president for enrollment type position, and Mark was the Dean of admission. But it was a great way to continue my experience with Gustavus. But the way things were done then and done now, I guess, I mean, the greatest example I could tell you is that, we had a file cabinet that had I don’t know how many years of data, but every student by high school had a three by five recipe card. And every communication, every kind of transformation from an applicant to somebody who was admitted to, ultimately if you were a deposited student you got a little green star and then everything was written in the back. To now, we don’t do anything paper-wise to a certain extent.

And yeah it’s just, the demographics are different, how admission works, how high schools work, how we get data, but the underlying premise of what we try to do is to talk to students and parents about this place in a lot of different forms, which changed again with COVID, but I’ve always liked to say that ultimately what we, and what I talked to new staff of which I have three new awesome young men and women representing Concordia and Valparaiso, which are two new entries into the admission office at Gustavus. But, that in terms of people who visit, that when they leave, they may not come back again. Maybe the student had did just, it was too small or whatever reason, but they leave saying that’s the way wanted to be treated. And they were able to see and hear and do what they wanted to do in order to make an informed judgment as to whether or not this place fits their needs. And that’s ultimately what we try to do.

Podcast host and historian Greg Kaster

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, and that’s a great point that even if the student doesn’t choose Gustavus, the fact that she or he leaves feeling good about that visit because we hear the horror stories. I mean I hear them from friends who have kids who’ve gone to, you know what I mean, it doesn’t matter the school where there’s some disaster, or the people, they’re not enthusiastic about the place they’re ill informed. The other thing that you say that I think is so important is you mentioned the comradery then, and I know that’s still the case in the office because, with the recent focus on admission scandals and some books and even a funny, kind of funny rom-com movie Admission with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd in I think, 2013 or something like that. Bu, the focus is on these elite schools and the idea that it’s not only cutthroat for the applicants, it’s cutthroat within the admissions office as well, as the director and his staff, or her staff fight over who should get in.

And that’s one reason I wanted to talk to you as well, to kind of have listeners think about what it’s like at a place like Gustavus. I mean, these elite schools, they represent a very, very small slice of the schools in this country. We can come back to that, You started to touch on it, but the actual process. What I remember about Mark Anderson, who you had great mentors, Owen or Sam, as we call them and Mark Anderson. I mean Mark knew everybody. I’m sure you do, he just knew everybody’s name. I did not know about those cards, and are those cards still around, were they given to the archive? Do you know?

Rich Aune:

There probably are some of them around in some of those things we had to rescue after the tornado and move them from Carlson over to the basement of Olin. But there are a few mementos out there.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. The ’98 tornado. Because when you were mentioning those, what occurred to me is that, it’s the same thing with the library card catalog, the old library card catalog.

Rich Aune:

Exactly right.

Greg Kaster:

Librarians would mark up, and I think it’s Nicholson Baker. The writer has a book about that, and they’re treasure troves of information, I guess, in this case, there would be concerns about privacy.

Rich Aune:

Yes, exactly.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah. That’s also interesting. so talk a little bit more about the admissions pro admission process, at Gus Davis. I mean, we think of it as a student applies and is accepted or rejected, but it’s so much more complicated than that. What’s it? What sort of, what does it involve essentially the applicants and in, in your end as well?

Rich Aune:

Yeah, I think one of the biggest changes from back in the day when we started was just a volume of information you’re dealing with as well as the volume of information that students have at their fingertips, whether it’s their phone or their computer. I mean, they can travel all over the world to explore a school now, and so that’s changed things dramatically. Kirk Carlson, who many people know, is my equal in this adventure, and he’s slowly working his way back and we’re grateful and thankful for that. He and I always talk about the funnel, which is a way to describe college admission and that is Gustavus and in many places, essentially purchase names or get access to names through a variety of vendors, which is also a huge change in higher education, the number of people involved in admission and evaluation in all sorts of things, some for better, some I would argue not for better, but think of a funnel and we start with about 125,000 names.

Greg Kaster:

Wow.

Rich Aune:

Then we reach out to them in a variety of ways, both paper, technologically. And most schools, including Gustavus, they try to just determine if the student’s interested enough and essentially a student’s go move from a prospect to what we call as an inquiry. They have basically raised their hand and said, “You know what, I have some interest in this very fine liberal arts college.” And then we kind of continue that process. We are now working nine through 12 with messaging. And then ultimately we get about 5,000 of those students to apply. When I first started in the admission office, that number was probably 1400 or 1500 so there’s a huge change there. And then, we have two different decision times. We have an early action program, which many places do, and then regular a rolling admission. Unlike an early decision program, which we used to have, early action still allows students to wait until a May 1st deadline, but it also brings in those students who would have done early decision with us and are ready to make that decision.

So 5,000 to 5,200 applications, ideally this year, to 3,400 admitted students to ideally, and I say that because we know that this year everything was going ideally for us and things changed. But if COVID hadn’t happened this year, we would have been right where we wanted to be, which was about 650. I think we might’ve actually stretched that to 660 and we probably had 700 people actually deposit. We have done, a typical year, 30 to 40 students who, for a variety of different decisions will change their mind. And in this year’s class instead of 650, it’s at 611. 607 technically but 611 if you count, post-secondary options students, which we always have three or four. And we essentially didn’t… 650 was where we wanted to be in and we had the, I would say, maybe the best and most diverse and brightest international group of first-year students And we know Gustavus and many, many places, they simply couldn’t get visas. But that’s kind of the process. We’ll have, gosh, by memory, we would normally have a 1,000 visitors in the summer, for instance. And this year, nobody did any open houses.

But to combat that, we actually, maybe we’re one of the first ones, at least in Minnesota, that we came up with a very good plan. We created space to meet people. And, I wouldn’t have believed this, but we probably had, not probably, excuse me, we had the largest number of individual visits the summer of COVID then we had which was 512.

Greg Kaster:

That’s amazing.

Rich Aune:

Because they couldn’t go anywhere else. And you couldn’t do a Minnesota Private College Week, which you may have, even if you’ve probably participated in Greg our summer open houses, which between those would have 400 to 500 visitors themselves.

Greg Kaster:

It’s so funny, I’m laughing in part because, I’m thinking, okay, natural disasters are good for us. I mean, remember after the 1998 tornado, I think we had the largest in coming class…

Rich Aune:

We did.

Greg Kaster:

And now this, you just told me.

Rich Aune:

Probably time to for me to go because we don’t want to deal with another. Debbie and I are probably magnets for some of the…

Greg Kaster:

So what I’ve always found interesting, and maybe without getting too much into the weeds, how do you know, I mean, how do you determine how many students you need to admit to get the, is it called the yield?

Rich Aune:

Yeah, the yield.

Greg Kaster:

Is there’s some formula all of you use, or how does it work?

Rich Aune:

Even now, I think that it depends on who you are. I mean, we have a pretty good historical idea of what our yield is. So, Kirk and I would say that we would love to get that 32 to 3,200, admitted students. I think, ultimately we would, in addition to that, would love to be able to increase… We currently have a small wait list, but it would be nice to have a larger list. Some of that is reputationally driven. I do firmly believe that Gustavus has… We continue to be noticed outside of the Hill. I think we’ve always known who we are, but I think that our reputation has grown. And so that would be nice to be able to have a wait list. At the same time, I would not be honest if I didn’t think about what we’re trying to do here, or as a select liberal arts college. I think a lot of us, with the current, not only COVID, but the consciousness of racial justice, I think there’s a lot of people who’ve looked at some of what we do, and have probably thought, could we do it better? I mean, Gustavus should be proud to know that we’ve been test optional for 14 years and now suddenly…

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I wanted to get to that, that’s right.

Rich Aune:

Suddenly it’s a suit coat that everybody wants to wear.

Greg Kaster:

Right. I don’t know if we were the… We were certainly among the first if my memory…

Rich Aune:

Yeah, it kind of started out East, but Mark Anderson really talked about it in the staff really, I think, supported that. And I think it’s the right thing. I mean, I think that it’s important for people to note that, the one thing that hasn’t changed, in terms of evaluating applications, is that we look at everything. Donna’s truth is, the best predictor is probably still a student’s high school transcript because it’s a longer term picture of their effort in the classroom. But I think that college admission is beginning to look at a whole series of things. I feel like we’ve always done that and currently we probably have 65% to 70% of this year’s class may be submitted test scores are middle 50%, which is probably the best, the most accurate way to describe, it is 25 to 30.

We had the largest number of national merit scholars in this class in the last six years or seven years, maybe 12. So we’re getting great kids, but my goal and Kirk’s goal is to also have us become, we love our Minnesota kids to death, but we need to… I think we should be attractive to more students from out of state, That would be another goal, to have a little bit more national geographic and international balance. Because I think that that adds to their education.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I agree. I mean, there’s that argument, but it also right, it’s just going to be essential as the demographics shift. And I did want to ask that, maybe we’ll come back to that about where we might be recruiting in the future. A couple of more questions about the admission process itself. So one, we have this sense of young people today, It’s all about screens, right. But how much of recruiting on your part still involves meeting in person, I mean, and even paper brochures or is that sort of, that’s gone the way of, I don’t know, the dinosaur.

Rich Aune:

No, I think paper’s still has a part in what we do, but certainly the technological aspects… What does your website look like? What are the landing sites? How much information can I get? The interactiveness of it. We talked earlier, the continued use of video and presenting the culture of this place, right? That’s not an easy thing to do. And we decided, was it three years ago, we jumped on the you visit virtual tour. And that was, they did a great job in, we will be bringing them back again because we have some things to show them now, right? Nobel Hall and the theater piece and all that upgrade and some other things that they can do is becoming a very important part of the initial look that students may have. The vast majority of students, with the exception of this incoming class, still should and do visit schools because, that your sense of being, the sense of what a place is, and who the people are, can best be ascertained by physically being there.

If you want to understand the classroom culture of Gustavus, you need to sit in on a class with Greg Kaster or Dwight Stoll or whomever it is to, to understand the next leap that you’re making. And in places like this to, I think, grasp the accessibility of faculty, the connectiveness, the absolute outstanding teaching that occurs, the catalog just doesn’t say that, right, you need witness it. It’s no different, if you want to sing, you should watch the conductor. If you wanna play volleyball, you should hear from the coach, and maybe more importantly, talk with the players about the coach. And I think you would agree with me the culture of a place like here and many of our sister schools in Minnesota, this is not a place where on Friday night, everybody gets in their car and goes home, this is essentially your home for nine months. And that has always been the case, that’s just a cultural thing.

And you learn things right, Greg. I mean, not everything is in the classroom, about learning to be an adult. I think that one of the very interesting questions that will come out over COVID is, even for us, we’re probably doing 60% of our classes hybrid and online. And I know we’re doing a great job and it’ll be interesting to see what impact that has down the line. But what you can’t replace, with an online class, is you can’t have online the young adult development, I don’t believe.

Greg Kaster:

I agree.

Rich Aune:

And, I think, that’s really why our students were… We could make arguments in a lot of different ways, and people have, but they really wanted to be back. And I think in their mind was, it’s not just, I need to get out of home, I think underneath they recognize, I need to continue my relational development and my ability to communicate with people and my ability to, understand things. And that’s what [crosstalk 00:33:10] do.

Greg Kaster:

I agree. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, student evaluations and one comment, some years ago that a student made that it made me so happy, So gratifying was yeah, the student went on about, learned a lot, but what’s a student, I shouldn’t say he, she, whoever it was, I didn’t know, but, felt they had learned a lot about life and that is so important in that doesn’t just take place in the classroom, far from it. And I think we are a, as you say, we are a residential, that word is there for a reason, right? Residential liberal arts college. And a lot of stuff happens on the weekends as well as in the evenings too. It’s different. M wife, Kate, she went to a Bard college, smaller, so she had that experience. I didn’t have it as a student, but I sure wanted it as a faculty member.

And the other thing you say, which is absolutely I could not agree more, is about the visit. And I know that can be hard for students, especially further away, but I think about myself right, when I was on the job market long ago. And I interviewed on campuses and then I came to Gustavus and I just knew right away that’s where I wanted to be. I could tell by the culture. And there was no way I could have known that without coming to campus and experiencing it in person.

Rich Aune:

Yeah. I mean, just the brief conversation you and I had about individual that you didn’t know we both knew. And I often get the question, I don’t know, 50 times a year. Parents usually will say, “What’s the best part about what you do.” And it probably took me a couple of years to figure it out when I first started because I wasn’t smart enough. But the one thing that has not changed, and it goes back to what you and I, the particular he or she that we were talking about, is the incredible gift to those of us have who get to work in small residential colleges, to see a student come in. And I can’t believe I’m going to say this unformed clay metaphor, but these individuals who four years later, you get to watch them grow, you get to see things that the parents don’t get to see, and it is incredibly gratifying.

Greg Kaster:

It is, there’s nothing…

Rich Aune:

There’s nothing… It’s a different work world, right? I think you and I would agree, we’re both starting to forget things, because of going North of 60.

Greg Kaster:

No, we’re going to say it’s because of COVID, come on.

Rich Aune:

Because of COVID. But I’ve always told people too, that one of the many blessings is they make you feel young.

Greg Kaster:

It’s so true. One of my favorite professors, never took a course with him in graduate school, but just knew him, would talk about that, or did talk about that. And it stuck with me ever since, I think it’s true. And it’s why, I guess why… I’m 67, just turned 67 and I have no interest in retiring as long as I’m enjoying it.

Rich Aune:

[inaudible 00:36:58] for us.

Greg Kaster:

Well, thank you. And let’s let the cat out of the bag, you’re referencing Will Clark, without whom this podcast would not occur. And how Will changed over time. And Will just terrific, I only met him when he and I met in the last spring to start working on this podcast. But I love being in the classroom. I love that part of the work, thank goodness I should. But I’ve grown to love as, as much, certainly as much, getting together with alums, a year out, two years out, and I do that fairly regularly up here and when I travel. And just watching them… Kate and I don’t have children, so we haven’t had that experience, but to see what these young people are doing, what they have done, is just so gratifying. And they all again, every school can claim this, but there is something about the small liberal arts college experience, and we do it, I think, exceptionally well. Now back to the recruitment and the building of a class, a couple of things. So the in-person, I mean, the personal touch, whatever you want to call, it still matters, I take it.

Rich Aune:

Yes, it does.

Greg Kaster:

And does that occur only on the visit or you’ve got these admissions counselors out there pounding on the doors, so to speak, how does it work?

Rich Aune:

They’re pounding on their computer right now. So I mean, this generation and because of COVID and even their high school years, we’re spending a lot of time virtually, whether it’s Zoom or Google Meet. I think the bigger challenge is to try to create that sort of, kind of, intimacy in terms of delivering information, even in a open house in a Zoom format. There are lots of vendors out there trying to help you do that. But everybody’s trying to figure out what works best for them. We’ve had, beginnings in the last two weeks, of actually having virtual high school visits. I’m asking everybody to see how well that works and I think the jury’s out a little bit, but we’ve had some successful open house things this summer. We’re going to continue to do that, throughout the year. As you know, we have a scholarship day in November and February, that is not going to happen on campus, because it can’t.

We are three weeks away from the fall break for Minnesota high school students are referred to as MEA. And in a normal year, we would have over 400 visitors between Thursday and Friday. We can’t do that this year because we just have to limit the number of kids who can come day, it’s as simple as that. But we’ve expanded our day to try to get more people. We are open almost every Saturday and we’re open later on Saturday to make this happen for people. And then as I mentioned, MEA, we’re actually going to have two or three virtual group presentations on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of that week.

So Gustavus, like everybody is trying to do things, colleges are spending a lot of new money in order to do that. And so we’ll see. We’ll continue to try to do what’s best for us, Greg. I think this summer, I’m thrilled to death that we had the number visitors that we did, and we had just an awesome group of young men and women as tour guides. And there were people who are here and everybody helped us figure it out, so they got to see everything. It wasn’t obviously the same as a normal… And we’re going to continue to do that, we’re probably averaging 30 to 40 visitors a week, which is probably a little higher than normal, but right on cue, I wish we could feed them. I wish we could provide them… Lots of students want to stay overnight, that’s also not a good idea. And we’re actually limiting them in terms of their classroom experience. I mean, you’ve probably got the email contact from Wendy, but if you have a space and so we’re trying to offer them as many things as they would normally have.

And I mean the visit, there will never be a summer, every campus visitor has the opportunity to provide us with an evaluation, which is a good thing to do. And so they can talk about their tour guide, they can talk about their faculty appointment and tell us et cetera, et cetera. By far, this summer, besides the great comments we typically get from all aspects of their contacts on campus, was a simple thank you for being open. Because people were trying to do a normal thing, which for their sons or daughters who were heading to their senior year, that would be, let’s go visit a college campus.

Greg Kaster:

That’s beautiful. I love that. That’s the title of a book about this, right?

Rich Aune:

Thanks for being open, yeah. That’s actually pretty good.

Greg Kaster:

That’s your memoir of this year.

Rich Aune:

Thanks for being open.

Greg Kaster:

That is awesome. And it’s true. I mean look, we can go back and forth on open or not open but I think it’s important that we are open. Yes, I’m happy to be teaching online, given my age and other issues. The mask is just not, if you know, my teaching style, the mask is not gonna work for me. And I think I’m having a good go at it and the students are learning. But anyway, that is really something, that’s a great comment. Thank you for being open. The other, you mentioned this earlier and we need to talk about, I think, because it’s so important is where to recruit? And again, this is, you know more about this than I do, but this is facing every college in this country and essentially are there too many seats and not enough students to fill them? As you think about that, you and your team, what are you thinking? So the international students is one area, and where else? If we can’t just rely on the Upper Midwest or Minnesota any longer the way we have?

Rich Aune:

Well, you’re referring to what people in enrollment, other than the elite Ivys, the demographic cliff that is happening in 2025-2026 where the number of high school seniors in the Midwest and the data’s even worse for the East Coast is there aren’t going to be as many. So you’re right, too many seats, not enough people to fill in. But there are pockets of growth and those tend to be places for whom a snowblower is not required to have in your garage. So Florida, Georgia, Arizona, the Southwest, so we are strategically trying to get ourselves out there, we’ve done that for a while. In addition, the makeup of a graduating class is going to continue to have more students from historically under-represented groups by population and we’ve steadily increased that number, is probably going to be 20… The class is closer to 19%, it would have been over 22%, which was our goal. We want to be begin to look exactly like Minnesota does in terms of our makeup and we’re making progress there, we need to continue to make progress as a very high priority for Kirk and I.

Buy we need to find students who, quite honestly, us and lots of places Greg, who haven’t traditionally looked at small liberal arts colleges. And I do believe that there’s an opportunity there. Arizona, that’s the University of Arizona, Arizona State, and Northern Arizona, there isn’t a Occidental or a Lewis & Clark. So we need to find places and engage students with who we are. And that’s kind of what we’re doing, and we can do that. You’d have to prepare information for them to look at and then you have to purchase their names and find those names. It’s interesting to note that, as of this week, because of COVID, there are one million fewer test takers between the SAT and the ACT right now.

Greg Kaster:

Wow.

Rich Aune:

And so, there’s a demographic change that nobody was expecting.

Greg Kaster:

No.

Rich Aune:

So, it’ll be very interesting this year to see how Gustavus and others, how we finding some of these students. And what is going to be the longterm effect of almost everybody, not everybody but a huge proportion of schools going to test optional now, how’s that going to change things. Because it will.

Greg Kaster:

Absolutely.

Rich Aune:

It will change things, from the ability to find out who people are, to send them information. So yeah, Illinois and Chicago continues to see some growth and we believe we would like to get some more students from that part, Nebraska, Omaha. And at the same time, our backyard is still pretty important.

Greg Kaster:

Absolutely.

Rich Aune:

The State of Minnesota’s a great to be and live, and we have certainly the 7-County Metro Area but Southeast Minnesota’s a very good place, I mean all of Minnesota.

Greg Kaster:

Right. Now, we have that going for us for sure that we’re in Minnesota. A lot of be said for that, I agree. So how are you sleeping? How stressful is this job? I mean, in all seriousness, because it’s 24/7 basically, right? I mean, you don’t stop. As soon as you build one class, you start on the… Or even before, you’re starting on the next. It’s actually like a political campaign that way, I mean, what you do to keep yourself sane?

Rich Aune:

Yeah. Let’s see. I can’t whine on this interview. I sleep fine. I think it’s a unique situation here, with Kirk and I. Most people don’t do it that way. And so I think, like many people who are in this role, you need to worry, that’s part of what you have to do. I exercise every day, I walk every day, he and I and TK, which some day we’ll get back together to do that, but we would walk every day to…

Greg Kaster:

Tim Kennedy and Mark [crosstalk 00:50:42].

Rich Aune:

Kennedy, yep. Mark in communication, who’s also a very integral part in what we do. We’d go out and burn some calories. We probably worked a little but we tried to limit that. I think Tami and I worked because her job can be pretty stressful, and certainly with the COVID that changed what she did. We tried, as best as we can, leave it at the door, because it becomes pretty easy to… That’s all you talk about.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, that’s [inaudible 00:51:21] important.

Rich Aune:

That’s not good. But I have a great team here and I’m pretty careful about making sure… I don’t know a better way to phrase it than to get to serious. I have people here who have been working for a long time who I trust will politely tell me… Because the easiest thing to do, especially stressful times, is to… You tend to not be yourself a little, you get a little stressed and you don’t act the way people have always expected you to act, which is important for me and in my team for me to look like that. And I have people here who will remind me here and at home and there’s lots of people who know… Lots of people on campus, I think, think I’m this incredibly serious guy. They don’t really know what a happy-go-lucky person I am. And I always have a rule about, if you’re thinking of sending an email that you’re unsure of, you must implement, and many people have heard this, don’t hit the send button for 24 hours ever.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, so important.

Rich Aune:

You just wait. And I grew up in Northern Minnesota. Tami, as a youngster, spent in the North Woods, so this is my happiest place but a close second is we have a five acre lot with my siblings, including Dr. Aune, about as the crow flies maybe 30 miles from the Canadian border, with currently no running water and no cell service. And I like to be outside, not only up there, but everywhere. The miles…

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, I know you like the outdoors, that I do know about.

Rich Aune:

So that help and I have a grandchild now, a beautiful grandchild.

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, congratulations.

Rich Aune:

And we still spend time, my family, my daughters have made Tami and I both better people because of who they are and I credit Gustavus and [Wollamite 00:54:10] for that. They’ve become truly remarkable young men and women, excuse me, and their husbands, men and women who care and they do keep us grounded. They’re also not afraid to point out some things that maybe I shouldn’t be doing, that’s good, life in general is good. I’d just like it to be normal for a couple, yeah…

Greg Kaster:

A couple of hours.

Rich Aune:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:54:43].

Greg Kaster:

Yeah, everything you just said certainly resonates with me and I remember 30 or some years ago when I was interviewing for the job, the Dean would have been David Johnson said something like, he was sort of kidding, but he said something like, “You need to meet other people who have nothing to do with the place, go meet some local farmers or something.”

Rich Aune:

Yeah.

Greg Kaster:

And I didn’t really appreciate what he was getting at until much later. But having that perspective and being grounded and not taking oneself too seriously and thinking about what this college has been through, what we’ve come through, most recently the ’98 tornado, but we’re going to get through this. We’ll be changed, as you say, it will be interesting, we will see, that’s right, we’ll see what of all these new adaptations, accommodations last, what prove ephemeral, we’ll find out, but Gustavus will be here. And in no small part, obviously thanks to your work and the work of your team, and that is true about the faculty meetings when Rich, when you speak, we are all ears as you can imagine. So thank so much, this has been very enlightening, I’ve learned a lot about the process, much more than I did from the movie with Tina Fey, as funny as that was.

Rich Aune:

Oh, thank you.

Greg Kaster:

And take good care.

Rich Aune:

I will, and to you as well, please say hi to Kate for me.

Greg Kaster:

Will do and to Tami as well, thanks a lot, take care.

Rich Aune:

Bye-bye.

Greg Kaster:

Bye-bye.

 

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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