Shana Russell joined Blair’s faculty this summer as associate dean of college counseling, a role to which she brings nine years of international-school college counseling experience. For the past four years, Mrs. Russell worked at Dubai American Academy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where she served as head of college counseling. Prior to that, she was director of college counseling at Asia Pacific International School in Seoul, South Korea, and college counselor at Taipei American School in Taipei, Taiwan.
Mrs. Russell is a graduate of Trinity College with a bachelor’s degree in English; she earned her M. Ed. In international counseling at Lehigh University. Interestingly, she began her career on the opposite side of the admission desk, working as assistant director of admissions at Trinity College and at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.
Mrs. Russell’s family includes her husband, Blair history teacher Michael Russell, and their young sons, Teddy and Ripley. They live in Freeman Hall, where Mr. and Mrs. Russell are housemasters. The Russells are all world travelers (Mrs. Russell herself has visited 50 countries!) who love to experience different cultures, foods, sights and geographies everywhere they go. Read on to learn more about Mrs. Russell and her family!
Q. What do you enjoy most about helping students navigate the college admission process?
A. I love that the college admission process gives students the opportunity to explore who they are and who they have become as they prepare to graduate from high school. This is often the first time that teenagers are told to stand out, and I’m proud to be a part of their process of discovering and articulating what makes each of them so unique. When students understand who they are before they get to college, it helps them succeed when they are there.
Q. How do your years in college admission inform your work as a college counselor?
A. My experience as an admission officer has given me an understanding of what works and what does not work in college applications (at least for me). All admission officers read applications differently, but each is ultimately trying to determine if a particular student is a good fit for the institution. Having been in the committee room, I know what questions are being asked, how the application is being viewed, which things are important and which things are not important on the application, and what makes a student stand out. In addition, I know there are likely five or six applicants who could fill every available seat at a university equally well. This knowledge, and my background in counseling, helps me help students when admission decisions come in. If an application did not work out the way they had hoped, I try to help students see that it is just what happened in this place, at this time. There was no one thing they did wrong during the process, and they will still find happiness at the college or university they ultimately attend.
Q. What advice would you share with seniors as they prepare to submit their college applications this fall?
A. It will work out for you! Senior year may seem like a time to worry or stress about college, but I’ve been through this enough times to know that no matter what school you attend, you will find your place. Much of your college experience depends on what you make of it, so if you find the happiness in your choice, you will be motivated to do well in your classes and participate in the community. That will set you on a good path to a lasting career.
Q. Describe one of your best family travel experiences. What makes it especially memorable?
A. This spring, we went on safari in Tanzania. Every member of our family, from our kindergartner and fifth grader to Michael and me, was completely engaged throughout this trip. We are still talking about the amazing animals we saw at the watering hole, the interesting people we met and the different foods we ate! Each of us was really invested in the safari (and we are having fun speaking to each other in Swahili).
Q. What’s next on your travel bucket list?
A. It’s all next! I want to see so many more places around the world. I accomplished my goal of visiting 40 countries before I turned 40; now that we are back in the U.S., I’d like to visit all 50 states before I turn 50. Although Michael and I have already been to many states, we are actually going to start this adventure from scratch so that our boys get to experience all 50 states, too.
Q. What are you and your family most looking forward to as members of the Blair community?
A. First, we want to get to know the students better. Living in Freeman Hall (a junior boys’ dorm), our sons have 30 big brothers, and that’s been great. We love sports, and we’re looking forward to attending lots of games throughout the year. We’re excited to experience the changing of the seasons, since we haven’t lived in a place that has four distinct seasons in quite some time. Finally, we are looking forward to feeling as though we’re home. The fact that so many teachers enjoy long careers here and that alumni come back to teach really attracted us to Blair. Actually, we already do feel at home.