From Double Jumbo to Director of Grad Admissions
Meet Roxana Woudstra, Director of Graduate Admissions
By Kim Ellwood
Roxana Woudstra, recently appointed Director of Graduate Admissions for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, carries a unique perspective as a Double Jumbo: an undergraduate (B.A. ’04) and graduate (M.A. ’14) alumna of Tufts University.
Serendipitously, Woudstra found her way to the Office of Graduate Admissions through her interest in international relations. “I never thought of admissions as being a career path for me,” Woudstra says. She envisioned herself following her father’s footsteps and becoming a foreign-service officer.
Woudstra received her B.A. in international affairs and comparative religion. She pursued this interest after graduation in Washington D.C., working for the Department of State in the refugee processing center. “The system they have in the refugee processing center is very similar to a higher education admissions processing system,” she says, “the skills I was getting from using the system to admit refugees into the United States would cross over to admit students into higher education.”
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy drew her back to the Boston area, where she worked as an admissions coordinator and counselor. To her surprise, the transition from international affairs into higher education was easy, and she discovered that admissions was something she enjoyed. “I like interacting with people, and I like talking about how great Tufts is,” she says.
After a few years, Woudstra wanted to advance her career and was advised to get a master’s degree. Reflecting on her undergraduate experience, she remembers how many of her friends did not realize that they needed an advanced degree to grow professionally. “A lot of us thought, if you just go to college, you’re done. You could just go work,” she says. Woudstra enrolled in the Educational Studies M.A. program and was able to examine the same question she had when she applied: “Why do people need an advanced degree to grow professionally?”
Through her studies she developed more questions about the admissions process, namely “how do people who are underrepresented in higher education—People of Color, people with disabilities, people in lower sociocultural-economic strata—how do they find out what they need to know about applying to graduate-level programs?” This question about diversity, access, and inclusion in graduate-level education formed the basis of Woudstra’s capstone project.
Woudstra was appointed Associate Director of Graduate Admissions after receiving her master’s degree, and was thrilled that the admissions office’s strategies fit with her academic interests. She says, “Tufts is also looking to increase diversity in as many forms here at the Office of Graduate Admissions. So, it was a fantastic fit for me.” Two years later, she became the Director of Graduate Admissions, and she is now developing her own initiatives.
One of Woudstra’s initiatives grew out of a desire to support faculty in understanding how to find high-caliber students from lesser-known universities, how that can help increase diversity, and how to recognize the potential in students to “do phenomenal research that we have never done before, because they have a different perspective.” She says, “Tufts really prides itself on its community work and how we interact with each other. So, we want students that are active both in the lab and out in the community.”
Woudstra plans to continue building relationships with organizations that will help Tufts increase its diversity, and she explained that, “diversity comes in all forms. It’s not just race and ethnicity.” She points to underrepresented perspectives in many realms, and that this may look different from program to program. One program may have an overwhelmingly male student population, while another program may see far more women—yet, both programs would feel the lack of the other’s perspective.
Woudstra uses socioeconomic diversity as an example: “You want to see people from different socioeconomic backgrounds because they have the different perspective on the way that wealth works.” Woudstra sees diversity in all of its forms as a way Tufts can grow, for as she points out, “when people are able to think in ways in which they are not comfortable, in which they are not accustomed, that forces learning forward.”