In an all-campus email sent on Jan. 17, President Michael Roth ’78 announced that Nancy Hargrave Meislahn, Wesleyan’s Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, will retire at the beginning of the Fall 2019 semester.
Meislahn worked in admissions at Cornell University before starting at Wesleyan in early 2000. She will leave Wesleyan after welcoming the Class of 2023 to campus, the 20th class she will have admitted. The announcement of Meislahn’s retirement comes following the announcement that Associate Dean of Admission Cliff Thornton will retire at the end of the Spring 2019 semester.
During her two decades at Wesleyan, Meislahn has witnessed the application process go completely paperless, the number of applicants to Wesleyan nearly double, and the acceptance rate drop from 27 to 17 percent.
In an email to The Argus, Meislahn commented on how her work has evolved over the years. She attributes most of the changes she has witnessed to the use of technology in the application process and new channels of communication opened by social media and other online platforms. These developments have had an effect on every aspect of the office’s work and emphasized the importance of signaling the value of a Wesleyan education in an age where applicants are bombarded by information online.
Even with all these changes, Wesleyan’s admissions process has remained a personal one, and Meislahn spoke about the qualities that the Office of Admission has always looked for in prospective students.
“[A]t Wes we go to great lengths to keep this a personal, person-to-person, face-to-face process whenever and wherever possible—so important and increasingly difficult in a truly international applicant pool,” she wrote. “And, as with most things, the more things change the more they stay the same: We still look for the bright and curious, open-minded and adventuresome Wesleyan student.”
Meislahn also noted the prominent role of parents in the college application process.
“It has been an increasing challenge to help students maintain ownership of the process while acknowledging that selecting a college is for most a family decision,” she wrote. “Especially when you consider the cost and sacrifices that families make to send their students to Wesleyan.”
Reflecting on her time at Wesleyan, Meislahn says she is most proud of initiatives that have made a Wesleyan education more accessible, such as Wesleyan’s partnership with the Posse Foundation, which will send its sixth class of veterans to campus in the fall. She is equally proud of the conference of community-based organizations Wesleyan pioneered in 2004 and has hosted ever since. This conference continues to bring together 20 to 25 representatives from organizations that support low-income and underrepresented students in the college application process to discuss ways to reach and support these applicants.
Meislahn’s time at Wesleyan has also been characterized by an explosion in the number of international applicants and a doubling of the number of international students on campus. Her job has taken her around the world to promote Wesleyan to an increasingly international applicant pool.
“Perhaps the most remarkable to me—as in, never expected to do that—is the work that I’ve been able to do internationally with Wesleyan as a platform,” she wrote. “I call them my ‘pinch me’ moments when I find myself somewhere in the world that my 20 to 30 year old self would never have imagined. Trips for the Freeman Asian Scholars program that took me to Vietnam or walking the Bund in Shanghai come to mind.”
Looking ahead to the fall, Meislahn is planning to stay in Middletown and enjoy a break from her busy schedule.
“Too soon to know anything for sure, but we plan to stay in Middletown,” she wrote. “Mostly I’m looking forward to the luxury of time—time to spend as I wish, see fit or do whatever strikes my fancy at any given moment. And, I’m sure there will be opportunities to continue to promote Wesleyan and contribute to the field of international admission.”
William Halliday can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.