Alexis Haakonsen doesn’t claim to have all the answers. She’s not inclined to make decisions in a vacuum. And she doesn’t plan to make major changes without at least first learning the intricacies of what makes Southern tick.
But the newly hired director of admissions is excited about the opportunity to help bolster the quantity and quality of students attending Southern. And she is confident that the recent declines in enrollment can be reversed in the years ahead.
“The Admissions Department has done a good job over the years,” she says. “We have a dedicated staff that cares about the university and the students we serve. I believe that with some refinements and tweaking, as well as a few new initiatives, we can really take off.”
Haakonsen says one new strategy she hopes to employ within the next year is to hire alumni volunteers to help with recruitment. “Alumni who can attend some of the college fairs, or who can host an out-of-state, or even in-state event, can really help us with recruitment of students. Who is better to talk about Southern than people who went through the various programs themselves and are now successful in their careers?”
She also believes Southern’s location in New Haven – with its proximity to New York City – can be leveraged to be a bigger selling point to international students. “Students from outside the country may not be familiar with much of the United States, but they usually have heard of the big cities – like New York and Los Angeles. I think our location so close to New York can help us even more.”
Haakonsen also said that firming up the university’s presence in the local market, as well as an increased outreach to part-time and transfer students, can help Southern’s enrollment numbers.
Kimberly Crone, associate vice president for academic student services, says Haakonsen has a successful track record in the areas of admission marketing, recruitment, staff supervision, budget management and department operations. “Alexis brings passion, vision and leadership to the important role of director of admissions,” Crone says.
As the former executive director of graduate admissions at Sacred Heart University (SHU), Haakonsen says she became quite familiar with Southern as a competitor. “In particular, I remember Southern having a strong reputation in teacher preparation because we went head to head with each other in trying to recruit graduate students in these programs.”
Haakonsen spent 16 years at SHU, where she honed her recruitment skills and strategies. Previously, she worked in the undergraduate admissions office at the College of Worcester in Ohio, where she had earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She would later earn a Master of Arts degree in learning (education) from SHU.
“I actually worked in the admissions office while I was a student,” she says. “Little did I know that I would fall in love with that line of work and make a career out of it. I know the admissions process can be pretty scary for students and their families and I like to help make it a less frightening experience.”
As the supervisor of the Admissions Department, Haakonsen sees herself as a team leader. “I value the experience and thoughts of our staff,” she says. “They are on the front lines, so to speak. Sure, as the department director, ultimately I’ll be making decisions. But whenever possible, I plan to discuss ideas as a team first.”
Haakonsen is the first admissions director at Southern since the retirement of Sharon Brennan in 2006. Jim Williams had succeeded Brennan on an interim capacity for a few years. Paula Kennedy has helped coordinate the operations of the admissions office since the retirement of Williams.
Haakonsen grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn. She is married to Erik Haaksonsen, son of the late Harry O. Haakonsen, who had been a professor of chemistry at Southern. They have two children, ages 7 and 11.