College's future first lady helps students find jobs, direction

by Sarah Rubenstein | 5/5/98 5:00am

Around twenty years ago today, Susan Wright would have been reading to her elementary school students, like she did every afternoon.

Wright, who is currently the associate director of Career Services, would often find something ironic or amusing about the stories she read and would look down at her students -- only to have her eyes met by blank stares.

While she loved teaching children, Wright said those moments were a "clue" that she needed to work with older people.

Wright, whose husband is College President-elect James Wright, came to the College in 1978. She worked in the dean of the faculty and provost offices for two years before she was named assistant director of Career Services.

"The minute I started working with college-aged students, I realized that this was the population I enjoyed most," Wright said.

She said she had a "natural affinity to this aged population," and she "began to find a position on the student side" when she arrived at Dartmouth.

After spending time advising students about their plans for graduate school, Wright decided to return to school herself, leaving the College temporarily to earn her master's degree in Administration, Policy and Analysis at the Stanford School of Education in 1983.

Developing direction

Wright earned her bachelor's degree in the last all-women class at Vassar College. There, she played squash under coach Aggie Kurtz, who came to Dartmouth a few years later as the College's first women's athletic director.

After working as assistant dean of the College and as a class dean from 1984-1993, Wright was named to her current position.

As associate director of Career Services, Wright advises students who are considering health-related careers and other graduate study opportunities, and she councils undergraduates who are attempting to win national scholarships and college awards.

She has also been an administrator for the Presidential Scholars program and a coordinator on the Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship Program.

Wright spends a lot of time helping students decide on career paths and graduate programs, and she said she often reassures "students who are confused or are at a loss for where to start to develop some direction."

Along with helping students win scholarships and national awards, she said her daily interactions with students have been her most positive experiences.

"It's the day-to-day things you don't even remember," she said. "The student who comes in who is really quite anxious -- and with a little direction, the student just takes off."

Jennifer Vines '98, a pre-medical student who has been advised by Wright, remembered the first time she went to Career Services and met Wright: "I was having my own crisis over recommendations, and I went to Career Services really upset, expecting them to be booked solid."

Vines said she ran into Wright, who helped her and calmed her down without having ever met her before.

"When you think about [Wright], you think about how the students care about her, and how much she cares about students," said Wadeane Kunz, who has worked as Wright's assistant for about four years.

"She takes each case individually," Kunz added. "She knows them by name, and she knows their cases before they come in."

Interaction

Wright said there are very few down sides to her job, but she has had some strange experiences.

During one instance, she told two sisters who planned on applying to medical school that there was a possibility that they might not be accepted -- only to face the students' angry mother, who appeared in the Career Services office 24 hours later to complain about Wright's statement.

When she is not working on the third floor of Collis, Wright, a Beatles fan, listens to music and reads just about anything that is handed to her.

While Wright considered pursuing her career at other colleges after she earned her master's degree at Stanford, she decided to return to Dartmouth, mostly because James Wright was here.

As the future first lady of the College, Wright said she is thinking about redefining her role at Dartmouth.

She would like to continue to focus on doing what she likes the most -- interacting with students -- but she said she may do it in a more broad manner, spending some time working alongside her husband.

Wright said she may withdraw from some of her full-time activities at Career Services in order to focus on the College community as a whole, but she wants to continue advising students.