Person of the Week

Brian Legate

Enrollment Services Systems and Project Manager

Not everybody’s going to make you happy all the time and there are going to be failures, but as long as you are going down the right road for you, that’s what is important.

1.  What led you to the mission Managing enrollment services leveraging technology for students’ success?

At one point I decided, “What do I do best?”  One of those is social work – helping other people find success in their life.  So originally it was with Washington University in the school of social work.  I loved social work so much and was so passionate about it.  How do I find young people find their way in social work and be successful in social work?  How do I make sure it is a proper match for them?  I’m big into matching – it’s not a college search process, but a college matching process or an institution matching process.  It has to be right for both parties.

At my previous university it was about recruiting, being the top school, and recruiting students from all over the world.  Where I work now, it is about helping first generation students find their way into a higher education possibility.  How do I make that possible for students?  How can I help them be successful in whatever they decide to do after the very early stages of high school?

I’m dealing with students who are mostly coming from first generation college families and also academically challenged students.  What I see myself doing now in enrollment services is probably the truest form of social work that I have done in my twenty-five years of social work since graduating from Washington University.

At first, I had a Bachelor’s of Social Work from Stephen F. Austin State University.  It’s a mid level state university like Missouri State University.  Stephen F. Austin University is in Nacogdoches, the first city in Texas. The school was named after the Father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin.   Nacogdoches is the oldest town in Texas.

After I got my BA in social work I went to Washington University where my dad got all three of his degrees including a PhD in chemistry.  I did the Masters in Social Work and a Social Economic Development Concentration.  I always thought I would be doing community organizing and more of the macro kind of work for a profession.  I ended up doing more of the program development and micro work at United Way for eight years.

I took an opportunity to go back to Washington University, my alma mater, to help for nine years as an Associate Director and then a Director of Enrollment and Student Services.  Now I’m at the St. Charles Community College as an Enrollment Services Systems and Project Manager my mission is leveraging technology for students’ success.

2.  What does this mission mean to you?

I think it is one of those jobs that is so well matched for my ability.  I’m excited every day to meet the new students and see the new groups coming in every semester.  I see them through the first year or so – through the college 101 process, as we call it.  I help them gain success in college courses.

There are challenging students and there are ones that are easy to work with.  What it means to me is seeing the future — right before my eyes.  I see these young people who are going to go on to do great things.  That’s why I’ve gotten so passionate about social media – especially through such means as Facebook.  While I was at Washington University, the school was one of the first to sign on with Facebook.

At first, the university had to contract with Facebook.  Originally Facebook was only at Harvard.  Then they created contracts with other universities.  Schools would sign on and once they signed on, anyone with that email address, such as, could be a part of Facebook.  That’s how I originally got into Facebook – when I had to be a part of a university that was a part of the contract.

Then Facebook evolved to go to all .edu addresses.  I’ve seen Facebook evolve.  That’s why I have stayed involved with social media – because I can see my students progress through their education and now their family life and successes.  My hope is to someday retire and travel all over the world and visit people with whom I’ve stayed in contact.  I can see their culture and meet their families.

One thing about enrollment and admission work is that I am sometimes the first person that the student meets at that institution.  I was the front door.  I stay connected and form a real student bond because I was one of the people that helped that student initially into the school.  Of course there was a major process to be accepted, but I was one of the first people they met at the school.  It’s easy to stay in touch through Facebook and see how past students are progressing and what successes they are having.

3.  What was your best day managing enrollment services leveraging technology for students’ success?

I guess it would go back that day the dean walked in and said, “We have this new opportunity to partner with the Soros Open Society Institute Foundation to recruit students from the former Soviet Union states such as Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia.  We’re going to partner with them.”  We did do this and along with the Soros Foundation, we partnered with Columbia University, got to travel to these countries, and recruited students, and brought them back to do a social work fellowship program for two years.  We had about seven to ten students a year and then they returned to their countries.

Literally, these students are going to be leaders in their countries.  We had one student who proclaimed that he would be president of Azerbaijan some day.  I’ve seen him progress and he’s on a fast track to doing something like that.  The idea was to build a sustainable group of first time fully educated social work practitioners in those countries.   They had never had that before.  If they brought back a hundred people who were doing really good work, that was a pretty good hub of people to start and sustain the growth of social work education at their state universities.  They are also practicing social work – either micro or macro work.

One of the key factors in the selection process is how much that student is going to be a “multiplier” factor.  The question:  is this person going to be able to inspire other people to do good work?  We were trying to cue in the attributes of someone who was going to be able to inspire other people to do good work as well.

I’d say that was a day that I go back to and say, “Wow!  That made a lot of difference.”  I didn’t even have a passport before then.  I was able to go to these countries that most people will never have a chance to visit.  Those were the first countries I ever got to visit outside the United States.

4.  What was your worst day managing enrollment services leveraging technology for students’ success?

It’s when I see that someone is not going to be successful in their chosen field or it is not a good fit.  Even as hard as I worked with them to make a good choice, in the end it may not have been a good fit.  Having to tell someone or help them work through the process of them not continuing on with the program because they are not going to be successful or it’s not going to be a good fit, those are always challenging situations.  In the end I always hope it will lead to a different journey that leads to a successful path.  Instead of keeping them on a treadmill, spinning their wheels, or even spinning backwards, we want them to progress, reduce friction, and move ahead.  As long as they are moving ahead, the student is going to be successful.  I have to get them on that road of moving ahead.  When they are not moving ahead, I have to lead them in a different way.

5.  How did you survive your worst day?

I look towards the future.  The problems are not going last forever.  We always say at the community college that sometimes the last five percent of the students take one hundred and five percent of your effort.  So those last few weeks leading up to the start of a semester, you can’t close your doors and say, “That’s it!”   You might turn people away, but you still have people coming in.  Those last five percent for some reason or another take a lot more effort to get them in the door.  Sometimes it’s best for them to slow down and wait another semester and come back when they have more time to get in properly.  We always say we have to be an open door institution and take students as they come and when they are ready to come.  Sometimes I have to be ready for them because they might not ever come back again.  Even though it might not be the right time for a student now and they are not ready for college, I have to wait until they think they are ready.

To make it through I have to stay true to my mission that I’m ultimately passionate about.  There’s a great book that Warren Buffet put out called, Tap Dancing to Work.  This is the term that he used to say that, “I always wanted to be in a job where I could tap dance to work every day.”  It’s not about just surviving or getting by or making more money.  It’s something that he feels really inspired to do.  I actually clipped and saved that from the Internet – the cover of him with the smile on his face and it said, “Tap dancing to work.”

Not everybody’s going to make you happy all the time and there are going to be failures, but as long as you are going down the right road for you, that’s what is important.  There’s a picture that I have in my office that says, “If you don’t know where you are going in life, any road will lead you there.”  So you have to know where you are going.  Stephen Covey used to say this, “Begin with the end in mind.”   I really think that is true.  Once you can discern what you’re made to do in this life, you can find the path to that success.