January 21, 2010
DeKalb, Ill. — Brandon Lagana regards his new job at Northern Illinois University as a “dream come true.”
“When I received notice that the position was open, I immediately went to the NIU Web site to see what the student stories were about and what kinds of things alumni were doing. I was impressed by what I saw on the surface,” Lagana says.
“Once I came here and met the people who were a part of Student Affairs and met the team from Admissions, I just felt such a positive sense that I was already here. I was already a part of the team. NIU was going to be my home.”
Now it’s Lagana’s mission as director of admissions to make sure that prospective students discover those same feelings when they visit campus.
Lagana, who began work at NIU in November, replaces Bob Burk, who retired at the end of December. Lagana came to NIU from the University of Maine at Farmington, where he served as the director of admissions for the past three years.
He has spent his entire professional career in college admissions, including positions as director in Maine, senior assistant director of admissions, Early Outreach Programs counselor and admissions counselor at Ball State University and as admissions counselor at Albright College.
“There is no more rewarding aspect of this job for me than helping young people realize their dreams for a college education. I am drawn to places where student development is really at the heart of everything you do to attract students to come and stay and to work with their families,” Lagana says.
“NIU is a place where students can come to do anything and go far. They’ll develop skill sets, be involved in hands-on learning and collaborate with faculty,” he adds. “NIU is that experience you think of when you think of college: people who know your name. Students don’t get lost in the shuffle here.”
Lagana earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
He completed a master’s degree in student personnel administration in higher education and an Ed.D. in higher education/cognate: adult education from Ball State University. His doctoral dissertation related to student affairs and readiness for professional development.
In the business of admissions, however, he deals with readiness for higher education.
The tradition of first-generation college students at NIU – what he calls “a tremendous dream realized” – touches him deeply. He loves not only introducing those young minds to higher education but helping their families provide autonomy to their children.
“It’s amazing to be at the outset of a student coming to understand the value of a college education,” he says, “that there is a place for them and that they can do it.”
Although Lagana says it’s somewhat unusual to join an admissions department in the middle of a recruitment cycle, he is grateful for the chance to have worked alongside Burk for six weeks.
“Bob was very gracious in the way he provided information in a way that was forthcoming. I really picked his brain,” Lagana says. “Bob is very much a cheerleader for NIU, and was able to give me a lot of insight into what had been done. He was so receptive to having new ideas, and told me the staff is ready to go. They’re ready for a leader who’s going to develop them further.”
The challenges are many, however.
Demographics are changing. The number of 18-year-olds is dropping. The ethnic percentages are shifting. New strategies and technologies are needed to reach the admissions pool. Transfer students are sought more heavily than ever before.
“We need to develop an admissions staff inclusive of all these elements,” Lagana says. “We need to put our best foot forward and tell stories of NIU in personal ways. We really need to get out there and beat the drum: ‘NIU is the place for you.’ ”
For Lagana, his arrival on campus has provided him another way to relate to future Huskies. He and his wife, Tara, and their 2-year-old son, Evan, are living in Stevenson Towers.
“It really gives me a different view than anywhere else I’ve ever worked,” he says, “and it’s a great experience for Evan.”
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Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs