Chrystal Russell didn’t have a role in recruiting the first-year students who are beginning their Case Western Reserve University careers this week. But next year will be a different story, and she’s already looking forward to it.
In May, Russell started as the new director of undergraduate admission at Case Western Reserve. In her new role, she will be involved with almost all aspects of undergraduate admission at the university.
Previously, she was a college counselor at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, and before that, she worked in admissions at Randolph College in Virginia and Rhodes College in Memphis. Coming to CWRU offered Russell a return to higher education—as well as new opportunities.
“To me, there is no better job that exists right now than being a director of admission for a mid-sized, research university located in a major city,” she said. “Students are flocking to these type of universities.”
Russell was inspired to go into admissions because of her own academic career path. After attending a boarding school for high school, she spent time at Peace College (now William Peace University), an all-women’s college, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
At both of the institutions she attended, she was highly involved. At Peace College, she was a three-sport athlete, and at the University of North Carolina, she was in Army ROTC and the Army National Guard, and a member of the novice woman’s crew team.
“My personal college experience ran the gamut, and a lot of my experience doesn’t happen without people along the way—particularly admissions counselors—saying ‘I’ll help,’” she said.
So she decided to pay it forward by working in admissions, planning to spend a year in the field before moving on. Now, she’s starting her 10th year.
For Russell, success is seeing the students she recruited reach new accomplishments. For example, one student she brought to Rhodes College went on to win a Fulbright.
But, other times, success is watching students walk across the commencement stage even though college didn’t always come easily to them. Russell said that at both colleges she worked for, she had the freedom to advocate for prospective students she felt would be a good fit for the institution, but didn’t always have the academic profile needed.
“Seeing them graduate was quite fulfilling,” she said.
Now, with the end of summer, Russell said the admission cycle—and building the Class of 2024—begins. In her world, fall equals travel for recruitment, winter means reading applications and spring is all about helping admitted students make the final decision to come to Case Western Reserve.
As Russell begins to dig in, take the time to get to know her with this week’s five questions.
1. What’s next on your reading list?
Personally, I’m a huge Pat Conroy fan. And so his last book, The Death of Santini, is on my list. Professionally, it’s called The Privileged Poor, by Anthony [Abraham] Jack; it’s about how elite colleges are failing disadvantaged students.
2. Do you consider yourself an early bird or a night owl?
A night owl, 100%.
3. What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
I have both my motorcycle license and I was on the skydiving club when I was in college.
4. What do you think is the most beautiful spot in Cleveland?
I went to the Cleveland Public Library Festival and, first of all, that street [the Superior Avenue and East 6th Street area] is a really beautiful place. The architecture of the buildings in that area (particularly the Cleveland Library and the Arcade) really showcased the detail and purpose of the builders and emphasized for me the history that exists in Cleveland.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
In the 1850s, Frederick Douglass was invited to and gave one of our commencement speeches. The fact that his speech is part of our history is quite phenomenal considering the time and national climate during that era. I also appreciate that six out of the seven first female physicians went to Case Western [Reserve]’s medical school.