From early on in his professional life, Aaron Coffey knew he wanted a career in higher education. The closer he could get to working with and helping people achieve their dreams of a college degree, the happier he would be.
Today, in his still-relatively-new-role as director of graduate psychology enrollment management, Coffey finds himself as immersed in higher ed as ever. And, he’s loving it.
“It’s been wonderful and overwhelming,” Coffey said from his office on the second level of Foyle Hall. “We have wonderful students here. Everyone seems to value what I bring to the table. It’s been a fun experience, and it’s been really interesting to be thrown out of my comfort zone.”
The comfort zone Coffey speaks of is administration, which is where he worked his entire professional life prior to coming to Avila last December. Here, however, he works directly with the academic side of Graduate Psychology, alongside faculty members, helping shape curricula along with overseeing student recruitment and experience. It’s a much more involved role, which he said makes for a much more challenging but rewarding experience.
“I get to listen in on some really interesting conversations,” he said with a laugh. “I had never worked in an academic department before. Also, I’m not a psychologist. I have no background in psychology at all. So I’ve listened to what faculty has said and learned.
“Higher education is a personal business; you’re working with students’ lives and futures. But, we also need to be successful as a not-for-profit business. So part of my job has been to help create a better, more marketable program.”
Coffey, a native of Higginsville, Mo., said it was while working for a couple years at a for-profit company, directly after earning his bachelor of science in management from Missouri State, that he realized he wanted to work in education. He almost immediately returned to Missouri State to begin work on his master’s in business administration.
He left after just two semesters to take a position as a consultant with Phi Sigma Pi, an honors fraternity with 131 chapters across the nation, but soon returned to finish his MBA. It was then that he got a position as a graduate assistant working in graduate admissions. He was hooked.
After eight years in Springfield, he accepted a position as assistant director of graduate and adult admissions at Columbia College.
“It was wonderful,” Coffey said. “It was such a challenging position. Columbia College has 35 branches across the country, and we consolidated and centralized all grad admissions. I oversaw all evening admissions as well as international admissions.
“It was a great experience.”
But, Coffey knew he wanted to be in the Kansas City market. And he knew that working with graduate students was his passion.
“Grad students are driven,” he said. “They know what they want to do and how they want to do it.”
Coffey said he wasn’t looking to leave Columbia College for just a bump in title. He wanted to transition to a place where he knew he could make a difference.
He thinks he’s found that place in Avila. He oversees nearly every part of the student experience for 160 in the program while at Avila and beyond, from the application experience to alumni engagement and everything in between. For graduate psychology students, he’s the primary support system.
“I’m working with the Office of Marketing and Communications on a new marketing plan to create an identity for the program,” he said. “We want to get a more divergent applicant pool. We have wonderful students. But now, we want to move beyond the Kansas City metro area.”
Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434