Leslie Castonia, Assistant Director of Admissions
Leslie Castonia describes an exchange with a student that captures exactly why she’s been in college admissions for more than two decades: Shortly after meeting with a group of high school students, she received an e-mail from one of them saying, “I was on the fence until I met with you, and now I’m really excited about Plymouth. I just submitted my application!”
Giving students guidance through the sometimes-intimidating process of applying to college, Castonia says, never gets old.
While an undergraduate at Ferrum College in Virginia, Castonia worked in admissions as a tour guide, eventually earning a fellowship to run the tour guide program. This early exposure to the field settled the career question for her, and she’s never looked back. She worked in several different settings earlier in her career, including a small, private college in the south and an urban for-profit institution in Boston. When she started at Plymouth State 11 years ago, Castonia knew she had found the perfect balance for herself: an intimate setting in traditional higher education, at a university with numerous opportunities to become involved with the community.
Although some aspects of admissions have changed since she launched her career, Castonia believes her role is the same: “It still comes down to making that connection with a student,” she says. “They want to know about life at PSU, so I have to make sure that I’m in touch with what’s happening on campus.” To that end, she makes a point of introducing herself to students on campus and learning more about them. “I want to know: How did they find out about PSU? Why did they decide it was the right place for them?” she says. Through her connection to current students and campus life, Castonia can better answer prospective students’ questions.
Understanding university life is especially important to first-generation college students. Because Castonia and her brother were the first in their family to attend college, she has played a key role in developing PSU’s programs for attracting these students, who make up 40 percent of the University’s undergraduate population, and helping them prepare for college. When speaking with first-generation college students, she says, “It’s not so much about promoting Plymouth State, it’s about promoting the possibilities for the future.”
Castonia’s commitment to student success—from the first campus visit through graduation—goes beyond her work in admissions to include service work for PSU. She has worked on the Wayfinding Committee, which advocates for improved campus signage (a crucial element to good first impressions for visitors), scholarship fundraising committees, the Student Success Task Force, and on alumni communication committees.
As rewarding as Castonia finds working with students at the beginning of their college search, witnessing their growth and seeing their accomplishments throughout their time at PSU is even more gratifying. “That’s what it’s all about … we’re here for the students,” she says. “In the end, I get a lot more from the students than I can ever give.”
– Emilie Coulter