Meet Emily Perlow!
What is your current position at Worcester Polytechnic Institute?
I just started in July as the Assistant Dean of Students. Prior to that I served as the Director of Student Activities. My current role entails working with students who may be struggling and trying to help them find solutions that keep them enrolled and succeeding at the institution, working with conduct cases, and Title IX investigations, along with assessment and strategic planning for the Division of Student Affairs. It is a big change for me as my level of student contact has changed substantially, but I’m excited for the challenges of the new position as well as the opportunity to influence policy and practice at a higher level of the organization.
What do you love about working at Worcester Polytechnic Institute?
WPI is a very special place. The students are brilliant, but at the same time, they have very little ego that sometimes comes with being so smart. They are genuinely interested in helping others and curious about the world. I also really love that WPI has a strong culture of innovation. Whenever someone has an idea, our goal is to see if we can make it work. And if it doesn’t work, then we’ll try something new. This openness to experimentation is one of the many characteristics that makes WPI a great place to work.
When you aren’t working, how do you spend your free time?
I spend a lot of my time working on my dissertation right now. I’m exploring the relationship between masculine identity, hazing, and play behaviors in fraternity culture. I also have a small side business doing photography. I shoot family portraits, senior photos, and some weddings. In addition to that, I spend time with my newly rescued dog, Darby, working on projects around my 90-year old house, gardening, and volunteering with the Northeast Greek Leadership Association as Assistant Executive Director and with Alpha Gamma Delta women’s fraternity as chair of the Education Committee.
Who inspired you to get involved in Higher Education?
For me, it was the confluence of a number of experiences. First, toward the end of my undergraduate career, I finally realized that I was scheduling my classes around my extracurricular activities. Next, I had several mentors I looked up to in my undergraduate experience who answered my questions about how someone could get a job in student activities. Then, I chose to postpone law school to take a 1-year appointment traveling around the country doing leadership development for my sorority. I realized while traveling that I gained a great deal of energy from mentoring and inspiring college women. The job was a perfect mix of the things I loved doing: event planning, leading others, and being a supporter and mentor. Finally, it took realizing my parents were right—that law school wasn’t going to make me happy. So I took my father’s advice: “When you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”—headed to graduate school and the rest is history.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in your career (so far)?
Keep students and student needs at the center of your decision making. Sometimes it’s easy to place the policy or the procedure at the center in an effort to be consistent. When the policy rests in the center, we lose sight of our commitment to best serve student needs. If we stay focused on student needs, we generate creative solutions, keep students retained and satisfied, and provide an overall better experience.
What is on your Higher Ed bucket list?
Right now I am very focused on getting across that commencement stage with my PhD, which is not an easy task when you’re working full time. After that, I hope to become a Dean of Students and perhaps, someday, a VPSA. I’m also stepping into a new volunteer role soon as the Chairman of the Board for the Northeast Greek Leadership Association. I’m excited in this role to lead a non-profit board. I think that will prepare me well for future experiences working with trustees at my current and future institutions. I also hope someday to teach adjunct in student affairs preparation program. I really enjoy working with young professionals and would love to help guide master’s students in their educational journey.
What advice would you offer to new professionals who are starting their first professional position?
When I started working at WPI ten years ago as a new professional, I expected to spend maybe three years there and then expected to move on. I have been fortunate to have had many opportunities and have stayed at WPI for more than 10 years. A lot of young professionals are counseled to “move on to move up” but that isn’t necessarily always true. My advice is two pronged: First, be open to opportunities at your institution. You can make a substantial impact if you aren’t always in a hurry for the next position. Volunteer to be on committees, ask for more responsibility, and do volunteer work outside of your student affairs functional area. Second, speak up. I think a lot of the reasons I have been given more opportunities was because I wasn’t afraid to volunteer for a new project, to voice my concerns or ideas even when I was the most junior person in the room, or to challenge the process in a productive way.