As an underclassman, you unknowingly passed by the one door in Pride Hall. This door leads to the resourceful Career Center, housing Ken Gradiska, the Work Experience Coordinator, and Alice Kleeman, angel and college advisor. In an increasingly college-going culture and complex application process, the importance of Ms. Kleeman’s role has grown significantly. At this point in the year, many juniors and most seniors not only have met Ms. Kleeman, but have also found themselves greatly indebted to her.
Before starting her twenty years of service as M-A’s college advisor, Kleeman began playing piano at age five. She has put her talents to work at M-A by playing in the orchestra pit for a number of musicals, including last year’s Seussical. As a result of piano and her finger dexterity, Kleeman boasts exemplary typing skills with which she earned a living transcribing tapes and interviews before assuming her position at M-A. In 2000, she became the U.S. National Typing Champion after qualifying with 120 words per minute and exiting the competition with 143 words per minute and 97% accuracy.
She received her undergraduate education from Harvard University; however, she does not like to advertise this fact because of the reactions it elicits. Kleeman wants to assume an impartial position as an advisor by recognizing that many colleges also provide such opportunities as Harvard.
Throughout her life, Kleeman has viewed education as essential to living meaningfully and preparing herself for life as a mother. When asked about her aspirations as a student, she replied, “All I ever wanted was to be a mom,” and added, “I just don’t think it hurts to be a well-educated mom.”
Kleeman’s three children attended M-A, exposing her to the school’s community. For four years, she volunteered in a lunchtime tutoring program and later became a substitute teacher. During her second year as a substitute, the previous college counselor of 16 years decided to retire and recommended that Kleeman consider filling her position.
Her first year, Kleeman sought to learn as much about the position as possible. She admits she “beat herself up a lot” during this adjustment time. Yet after the first year, Kleeman felt fully confident, especially thanks to insightful conferences, articles, and conversations. In addition, she has a network of other college advisors she still communicates with to run by questions and opinions and to stay current with the rapidly evolving college process.
Comparing her first couple of years as an advisor to now, Kleeman notes both positive and discouraging changes. Twenty years ago, students and teachers submitted applications and recommendations through the mail. Few schools used the Common Application, and a math problem could predict admission for a percentage of UC applicants. The lack of widely used e-mail and resources, including Naviance and Facebook, limited communication between Kleeman and her students.
Now, the application process has become much more complex and selective as the number of students and applicants has increased. When Kleeman began, around 40 schools sent representatives to M-A, while this fall approximately 140 college representatives visited campus. Kleeman concluded that if she went without any professional development, as a result of changes in admissions processes and policies, such as the SAT and the Common Application, her information would become outdated in 6 months.
She views her job as an extension of parenting, explaining, “I feel like I have this maternal instinct gone berserk.” As a result, she treats her students similarly to her children and also holds high expectations for their ability to act independently. Meanwhile, she aims to be as communicative and supportive as possible. Because of this, many students, especially seniors, see her as a mother figure on campus.
Although her job description merely articulates her responsibilities to open the Career Center, fill it with resources, collaborate with guidance counselors, and advise students about their post-secondary school plans, her job actually entails much more. As her job does not neatly fit into a regular 8-hour work day, she has made a choice to provide a level of service to students she believes they deserve, which includes hours after school, on the weekends, and through winter break. Essentially, she is superwoman.