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Admissions with Heart

Note: This is the 14th profile in a series of 90 stories highlighting individuals who have shaped Notre Dame and/or live the College’s mission of personal, professional and global responsibility.

By Christian Taske ’07

Even when asked to talk about herself, Dean of Admissions Beth Ford ’00 can’t help but talk about past, current and future Notre Dame College students instead.

“A girl came in yesterday,” Ford says. “She had a 3.9 GPA and was involved in a few extracurricular activities. But you could tell she was shy. After talking with her I thought, ‘She will flourish at Notre Dame College thanks to our small class sizes and personal attention. This is a perfect fit for her because I know she will develop into a confident leader over time.’”

Ford could relate to the visiting high school student. About 17 years ago, she herself had visited the campus as a shy teenager from Eastlake North who was looking for a small college close to home.

“I almost saw myself in her, even though I wasn’t exactly a 3.9,” Ford says with a laugh. “I know what Notre Dame did for me to develop my social and leadership skills needed to excel in the workplace.”

Ford is appreciative of the College’s impact on her life and she wants others to have a chance to experience a Notre Dame education as well. It is the driving force behind her work as the dean of admissions and financial aid – a job she says she enjoys getting out of bed for every morning.

“One student came in and told me his guidance counselor said college wasn’t for him. To make college dreams possible for these students is unbelievably rewarding,” Ford says. “To watch that student graduate is well worth every long hour that I spend to make sure our students have all the opportunities they need to be successful.”

Ford’s record in improving the admissions office speaks for herself. When she started as one of only two admissions counselors in 2000, only about 80 new students enrolled at Notre Dame prior to the College accepting men. This year, Ford expects more than 500 new students will enroll for the fall 2012 semester.

Since she was hired 12 years ago, Ford has risen through the ranks at the College. She became associate director of admissions in 2004, was promoted to director of admissions in 2009, and was named dean of admissions in 2011. She now reports directly to the College president and supervises a traditional admissions staff of 11 including the dual enrollment program. As of recently, the adult enrollment team also reports to Ford.

The bigger Ford’s responsibilities have grown, the less time she has available to interact with potential students. Nonetheless, she tries to meet as many of them as she can.

Beth Ford
Beth Ford ’00 has spent her entire career at Notre Dame College.

“I love relating to the students to make sure that Notre Dame is a good fit for them,” Ford says. “I think it’s very important that every chance I get I introduce myself to the students and talk to them, even just out in the lobby. Many of them are so nervous, even their parents, because they are first-generation students and they don’t know what to expect.”

Ford is a big believer in Notre Dame’s mission of being an opportunity college for those who might have never thought a private, Catholic, liberal arts education was within their reach. She herself is a first-generation college graduate. Ford’s dad is a retired salesman for the Dan Dee Pretzel & Potato Chip Company and her mom is an x-ray technician. Neither one has a bachelor’s degree, but both were adamant that Ford and her older brother Eric obtain one.

“College was definitely a priority. It was something that was going to happen even though I was raised in a middle class family,” Ford says. “So I can definitely relate to our first-generation students and their parents who want better for their son or daughter.”

Ford’s brother, a partner at a Cleveland law firm, graduated from Denison University and later from law school at Duke University. Ford decided that a smaller school close to home would be a better fit for her, so she enrolled at Notre Dame in 1996.

A business major with an emphasis on marketing, Ford was very involved on campus. She was a member of student government, the residence association board and the Masquers theatre club. She was a senior class vice president, director of intramurals and a captain of the soccer team. She also played softball for four years.

As a student, Ford also made her first experiences with recruitment, giving tours to prospective student-athletes. After graduating in 2000, one of her professors, Sr. Helen Burdenski ’62, suggested Ford join the admissions staff at a crucial time in the College’s history, shortly before recruitment for the first co-educational undergraduate class began.

Over the past 12 years, Ford played an integral role in the evolution of the admissions office, developing the student ambassador program and bringing in record-breaking classes every year since 2003.

“Beth has been instrumental in creating a professional, dynamic, outgoing, truly functioning admissions operation,” said Dr. Andrew P. Roth, president of Notre Dame College, when he presented Ford with the Outstanding Staff Award in 2009.

When you talk to College employees, they will tell you the always upbeat Ford demonstrates personal and professional responsibility in everything she does. She believes strongly in the mission of the College and when she speaks to prospective students, because she is as an alumna and has spent all of her working life at NDC, she speaks from her heart.

That approach has become the philosophy of the entire admissions office, which currently employs five other Notre Dame alumni.

“I have a phenomenal staff that can relate to anyone that walks through the door. They can talk about the students’ goals and what they hope to accomplish. And sometimes those are hard conversations to have,” Ford says. “They truly get to know the students to a point where we’re invited to graduation parties. We become part of their family.”

Ford tries to take that philosophy on the road as much as she can, not only during traditional recruiting visits at high schools. Just recently she took her entire admissions staff to the Cleveland Entrepreneurship Preparatory (E-Prep) School to talk to eighth graders about what to do in high school to prepare for college.

“We showed them that we were there for them. We told them, ‘Let’s make sure you are aware that you can go to College. Here’s how you do it. Start now,’” Ford says. “I truly feel we made a difference in the lives of those students. And that’s what it’s all about.”

That sentiment was echoed by Elaine Turley of Breakthrough Schools, a nationally recognized network of free, public, high-performing charter schools. In a letter to the admissions staff, she summarized how Ford and her team have impacted young kids who dream of college:

“Everyone felt you were a wave of optimism and energy and that you represented a connection to an interesting world of possibilities,” Turley wrote. “We were all uplifted! I know that the students felt as though they mattered to you. I told them that they would feel that from everyone if they were students at Notre Dame College.”

Christian Taske ’07 is the director of print & digital communications at Notre Dame College.