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Tusculum admissions official says a 'passion for students' is key in higher ed

Brandon Paykamian • Jun 7, 2020 at 7:32 PM

Dawn Bridwell, assistant vice president for admissions at Tusculum University, says working in higher education takes dedication to building relationships with students from all walks of life.

Bridwell, a Kingsport resident, is in charge of Tusculum’s recruitment efforts and manages university recruitment campaigns. She also assists with recruitment trips to high schools and community colleges to build “stronger, lasting relationships with leaders and counselors at these schools.”

The Sullivan Central High School and East Tennessee State University graduate recently spoke with the Press to tell us more about her career and herself, starting with some fast facts.

Bridwell Briefly:

Hometown: Born in Houston, raised in Louisville.

Hobbies: “Travel and spending time at the lake.”

Dogs or Cats: “Dogs. I have two Golden-doodles.”

Pet Peeves: “Litterbugs.”

Favorite Food: “Barbecue.”

What drew you to your position at Tusculum? 

The position of assistant vice president for admissions encompasses all aspects of admissions processes and recruitment. The complete enrollment cycle begins by building relationships not only with students but also with high schools, community colleges and the community. I love people, and I think that leading our admissions team, which is incredibly hardworking, is so rewarding. We all have different skillsets and passions. Learning more about each member, not just professionally, but personally, and building on what he or she can best offer to our team will ultimately lead to our success. Anyone who knows me would say, “Yes this is her passion.” I absolutely love my job. 

What do you think makes Tusculum a unique campus to work at? 

The beauty of the campus. It is absolutely breathtaking with the beautiful mountains as a backdrop and the incredible history this campus holds. We just celebrated our 225th anniversary. Another strength is the small classroom size, where faculty members are able to build that needed one-on-one relationship with their students. At Tusculum University you are not just a name or number. The same holds true for the admissions office. We know our students, and we have that relationship built with them long before they ever apply.

What are the biggest challenges in higher education today? 

Declining student enrollment due to declining high school graduation rates. Every university is competing for the same students in their region and beyond. It is crucial to provide students and families information about what sets our university apart. Finances are another big challenge for students. One initiative Tusculum implemented early last fall to combat this for students is the Pioneer 100. Pioneer 100 gives eligible students the opportunity to come to Tusculum University 100% tuition-free. This has been huge, and we are excited to see what fall 2020 holds.

What qualities do you think it takes to work in higher ed? 

A passion for students! It is a fast-paced environment — sometimes extremely stressful in the enrollment world — but so incredibly rewarding. When you and your team have given it your all during recruitment season and you start to see the fruits of your labor in your enrollment numbers for that term, it is the most rewarding feeling! We work as a team in our office to be successful. You can never stop thinking of ways to best serve your students. My motto is always to be forward-thinking. Our work is never complete. If one thing works well, build on it. If it doesn’t, well, move on and try something else. Successful implementation of new ideas is made easy by the support of Dr. Ramona Williams, our vice president for enrollment management and financial aid.

What are your plans later in life after working at Tusculum?

I see travel in the future. My husband and I love the beach and the lake. You could say it is our happy place. I am sure once we are retired, we will be able to enjoy these places on a regular basis.

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