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  Lauren E. Cook '98, director of West Coast operations, in Mount Holyoke's new admission office in California

Just about two hundred years ago, the Lewis and Clark expedition began its journey across western North America, then unknown territory for all but Native Americans. Now it's Lauren E. Cook '98's turn to blaze a new trail westward, this time for the benefit of Mount Holyoke's admission effort. Cook's mission, the establishment and operation of a West Coast branch of the College's admission office, shares some objectives with that of her famous predecessors--to make friends with the locals and establish new relationships in the West. While many East Coast colleges have representatives who travel extensively on the West Coast, very few, to College admission officials' knowledge, have established regional offices, and none operate them as virtual offices. Yet now, as in Thomas Jefferson's day, there are good reasons to put down roots west of the Mississippi.

"Opening a West Coast office was a research-based enrollment decision," says Jane Brown, vice president for enrollment and College relations. "While it is anticipated that the number of high school graduates will increase through 2008, the growth will not be evenly distributed across the country." According to Brown, the West, in particular California and some parts of the Southwest, is expected to see the largest increases nationally in high school graduates. Last year, California ranked third in terms of the highest number of applications to the College received from individual states, trailing only Massachusetts and New York. "At present," says Brown, "just under 12 percent of the student body hails from the West. These students are academically well prepared and contribute to the diverse student body that we value. We decided to take a cutting-edge approach to heightening the College's visibility on the West Coast to maximize our recruitment potential from this region."

Wired for Admission
Not only is the approach innovative, it's high-tech. In late June, Cook, who was promoted to the newly created position of associate director of admission and director of West Coast operations, moved from South Hadley to Albany, California, just north of Berkeley. By August, with the help of Paul Kandel, senior associate director for systems and technology, she had a fully operational "virtual admission office" in a room of her new home. Says Diane Anci, dean of admission, "We want Lauren to be a fully integrated member of the admission staff, and technology is helping to make this possible."

Cook now "attends" staff meetings and consults with colleagues via an audio/video feed from her computer in California to computers in the South Hadley office. She also has a virtual private network (VPN) that allows her computer to "act" as though she is on campus, meaning Cook has full access to on-campus-only services and databases. Should any of these gadgets break down, she will receive technical support through software that will enable College technical-support specialists to take full control of her computer system to monitor and fix most glitches.

While technological bells and whistles will help Cook remain connected to campus, it is old-fashioned face-to-face contact and the human touch that will make all the difference when it comes to recruitment. "Since she will be based in the West, Lauren will be able to strengthen relationships with area high schools, guidance counselors, and alumnae and establish long-term connections," says Anci. "She will be accessible, which is so important."

Cook's duties include interviewing prospective students, visiting high schools, representing Mount Holyoke at college fairs, reading applications, and training West Coast alumnae volunteers. She also continues to oversee the College's Alumnae-in-Admission program, outreach to "legacy" students (prospective students who have close relatives who are alumnae of the College), and the new arts recruitment outreach program she helped to develop and launch last year. "There are now far greater opportunities for Web-based chats and interviews in students' own time zones than there were before," Cook says. Her "territory" includes not only California, but Washington, Hawaii, and Oregon. "Lauren will also be available to conduct interviews with students from the Pacific Rim," Anci says.

To keep fresh in her mind such fixtures as the look of the campus aglow in fall colors and the silhouette of College buildings against a bright blue winter sky, and to allow her to interact in person with her colleagues, Cook will return to home base about four times a year. She will participate in everything from staff training to reunions.

Cook began her admission career as a tour guide during her junior year at the College. Although she enjoyed living in South Hadley for eight years, she says, she is "ready for a new adventure." Her journey certainly will have some major advantages over Lewis and Clark's; raging rivers and grizzly bears will not be part of the mix.

Call 510-524-6279 to reach the West Coast office, or contact Cook by email at

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