Sitting at a table with a photograph of Allegheny College students smiling for the college’s bicentennial celebrations contained beneath the table’s protective glass, Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions Cornell LeSane talked about his role on Allegheny’s campus.
LeSane was officially announced as Allegheny’s dean of admissions in the summer of 2014. Prior to working at Allegheny, LeSane was employed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he met two senior staff members who were Allegheny alumni.
“There were times when I worked (at Carnegie Mellon University), we had more people on our staff in admissions from Allegheny than from Carnegie Mellon University,” LeSane said. “Proud moments there.”
Working at Carnegie Mellon made him realize how well-connected and well-established Allegheny alumni are, LeSane said — and when a search firm reached out to him for a job at Allegheny, LeSane was already aware of the college.
“In some ways, I’ve known Allegheny for a long time, and I’ve always had the utmost respect for the folks I’ve worked with,” LeSane said. “Talk about strong work ethic, bright, knowledgeable in a range of subjects.”
Working with enrollment, admissions and recruitment, LeSane said his childhood with two parents in the army helped prepare him for reaching out to different students.
Growing up, LeSane moved between states — and even, briefly, between countries when he lived in Germany — and attended several high schools. Since Allegheny’s admissions and financial aid teams are charged with recruiting well-rounded and academically strong students, LeSane said his background has helped him work with students and parents.
“It works out well that I get to now work with both parents and students to help them navigate the college search process,” LeSane said. “I feel like every year, the process becomes a little more difficult.”
LeSane said he has seen the process become more challenging, in part, because of the rise in unrealistic expectations for students. In response to these higher standards, LeSane looks at more than just students’ academic history, a decision reflected in his proposal for Allegheny to move toward a test-optional policy.
The policy, meant to communicate to students that Allegheny cares for overall character rather than test results, was implemented in 2016, according to LeSane.
Executive Vice President Eileen Petula said she sees the desire to connect with students on a basis beyond academics reflected in the way LeSane recruits.
“To him, it’s not just about recruiting a class,” Petula said. “He really wants to connect Allegheny College and all we have to offer with the students who are going to be able to thrive here. He sees all the interconnections, how everything is woven together.”
Provost and Dean of the College Ron Cole echoed Petula’s thoughts on how LeSane introduces students to Allegheny.
“The way in which Cornell envisions bringing students to Allegheny is a holistic process,” Cole said. “Yes, we want students who can succeed at Allegheny, not only with strong academics, but with more than that. That’s not the only criteria. I really value that in the way he works in bringing students to Allegheny.”
In regard to students, Petula said, LeSane does not have a narrow point of view. LeSane’s broad perspective is applicable to the way he approaches and perceives Allegheny as an institution.
“I would argue for institutions, part of our goal is to prepare students for the global market we’re not living in,” LeSane said. “To do that, we have to enroll a class that represents that global market.”
To help create a more global environment on Allegheny’s campus, LeSane helped write a proposal for an international recruiter position. Since the creation of the international recruiter position, the number of international students has almost tripled, according to LeSane.
By broadening the range of Allegheny students, LeSane said he sees a mutual benefit, as international and domestic students can learn from each other, while the Meadville community benefits from the more diverse group.
“We truly have a great team,” LeSane said. “They care about this place. They recognize the important roles they have in being ambassadors for the college and representing this place in the right way. They do a marvelous job.”
To Petula, LeSane’s job as an ambassador to the college is one of the more important aspects of his position.
“Cornell and his team are on the front lines in terms of being ambassadors to Allegheny College,” Petula said. “They’re ambassadors, first and foremost. In the most neighborly kind of way, they are ambassadors. They are people’s first touch with Allegheny, and it’s so important.”
Working with and around LeSane has helped Cole in his own work, Cole said.
“He’s an amazing partner, and I’ve learned a great deal in working with him,” Cole said. “He helps me in my day-to-day work. I learn a lot from him.”
Over the past year, LeSane said he and his team have visited 800 high schools domestically, and, despite the traveling, LeSane’s favorite part of his job is working with prospective students and their families.
“We’ve got some pretty amazing students on campus, and being able to have conversations with them not only as they go through the process, but as they stop in, or as parents reach out, to talk about the positive experience they’re having, it goes a long way,” LeSane said.
Although working with prospective students and their families is LeSane’s favorite part of his job, he said one of the biggest challenges he has faced in recruiting has been how humble Allegheny is.
“We continue to be way too humble about our success,” LeSane said. “Whether it’s having alumni who are presidents of banks, congressmen, senators, governors, whatever it may be, we continue to be too humble. It’s great that we know internally there are some amazing things going on here.”
LeSane said he makes sure to tell families he is not only proud of Allegheny’s history, but excited for the college’s future — a future he wants to make accessible to as many students as possible.
“I’ve enjoyed admitting not only the diamonds, but the diamonds in the rough,” LeSane said. “This has meant a lot to me. I enjoy saying ‘yes’ more than ‘no,’ and when you think of the admission values of Allegheny, it’s about access as well.”