A Leading Lady In Higher Education In America
Jennifer (Coulter) Desjarlais, a Graduate of Oliver Ames High School, has Her Roots in Easton
Jennifer (Coulter) Desjarlais is part of the administrative leadership team of one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in America.
She is a very busy woman.
As Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid at Wellesley College, Desjarlais is a steward in recruitment; outreach; admissions; enrollment; financial aid; helping new Wellesley students get acclimated and their feet grounded; advising and working with applicants and students on financial aid options and helping them to understand their individual responsibilities in the financial aid apparatus; remaining apprised of how students are progressing at Wellesley, reaching out and helping students navigate college life; and working as a liaison between Wellesley College and its students and its alumnae.
“Everyday involves many different tasks and responsibilities,” said Desjarlais. “And everyday is about taking care of the micro and the macro.”
Desjarlais added, “Wellesley College is a special place; it is and has been so important to developing and educating women leaders and women who are improving society. To be directly involved and responsible day in and day out in helping to keep Wellesley College strong and meeting its mission is a tremendous privilege - one that is immensely rewarding.”
It may have been growing up in Easton where Jennifer Desjarlais — then Jennifer “Jenn” Coulter — started directly down the path that would take her to the heights of American academia.
Yes, Jenn and I are pals from way back. We are both members of the Oliver Ames High School Class of ‘81.
(Henceforth, I will refer to Jennifer Desjarlais as “Jenn” — the short form.)
“My father was a teacher and then a guidance counselor at Brockton High School,” said Jenn. “And when we were growing up, we often would go out to eat in Brockton — at maybe George’s Cafe, or the Cape Cod Cafe — or somewhere else in Brockton, and so many times a former student would come up to my dad and talk with him, and discuss with my dad what he or she was doing now, and often thank my father for advice or counsel or other help my dad provided.
“It was my father who recommended to me that I take a good look at a career in higher education admissions.”
Jenn is one of three children of Charlie and Barbara Coulter, a medical secretary. Charlie and Barbara, now living in New Hampshire, are avid antique fans and for several years had a thriving business buying and selling antiques.
All three Coulter children graduated from OA. Chris is Class of ‘82; Faith is Class of ‘88.
And, all the Coulter kids are successful. Chris graduated from Cornell University and is general manager of Bald Peak Colony Club in New Hampshire. Faith received her bachelor’s degree from New Hampshire College (now Southern New Hampshire University); she lives on Cape Cod and is Director of Contract Operations for InnSeasons Resorts.
At OA, Jenn was an excellent student, and involved in student government. She was also a Tiger hockey cheerleader.
Jenn says that among the teachers at OA who had the most influence on her were Rose O’Reilly (English), Fran Ialenti (Spanish), Doc Harrison (math), and Hazel Varella (history).
After OA, Jenn went on to Simmons College where she majored in International Relations and Spanish.
“I would have to say that one reason I pursued a Spanish major in college was because of Fran Ialenti,” said Jenn who spent an undergraduate year living and studying in Madrid.
When I was at Boston College, and Jenn was at Simmons, we stayed in touch. She would bring her friends over to hang out at BC. And the guys and I would go over to hang out with Jenn and the Simmons gals.
If you are a guy and are into women then it is always a good thing to have a friend at an all girls school.
While a student at Simmons, Jenn held a part-time job in the school’s admissions department.
“I learned a lot, and I became interested in the admissions process,” said Jenn. “But still I was not seriously considering making a career of college admissions.”
Also at Simmons — and Jenn was not big into athletics at OA— she became a dedicated and accomplished rower, a member of the Simmons crew team.
Jenn graduated from Simmons College in 1985. She went to work for an international development non-profit organization for a year.
In 1988, Jenn enrolled in the master’s in higher education administration program at the University of Vermont. She graduated from the program in 1990.
It was at UVM where she met Jeff Desjarlais, who was also studying for his master’s in higher ed. Jenn and Jeff were married on September 11, 1993.
If you care about young people and education, then you have to consider that Jenn and Jeff have the most charmed and fulfilling life. Jeff is Director of Health Services at Concord Academy — a prep school that occupies a level in the stratosphere of respectability in its sector of education that is parallel to that which Wellesley College holds in its sector.
Jenn and Jeff live on the Concord Academy campus. The couple also owns a home in Vermont.
“Having young people around you 24/7 contributes to keeping you young,” says Jenn.
With her master’s in hand, Jenn returned to her alma mater where she was hired as Associate Director of Admissions. In 1994, Smith College, another all women’s college, brought on Jenn as its associate director of admissions, a role which was heavy on international recruiting as well as being involved with admissions marketing and publications.
Jennifer Desjarlais was building her profile as an effective and highly valuable administrator in women’s college admissions.
Wellesley College took notice. In 1999, she was appointed Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Wellesley. In 2001, Jenn was promoted to Director of Admissions — and then to Dean of Admissions. Three years ago, Jenn’s title was changed when her role with the college was adjusted to include Wellesley’s student financial services department – and she became Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid.
“I want Doc Harrison to know that today I oversee and administer a $54 million financial aid budget, and the foundation Doc gave me in math is put to use all the time,” said Jenn, with a laugh.
Obviously, in her position at Wellesley, Jenn works and communicates with leading academics, and also Wellesley College alums of note.
Yes, Jenn has met Wellesley grad, Former First Lady, and U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton (Class of ‘69).
Jenn told me how, this past academic year, she very much enjoyed talking with another Wellesley graduate, and another U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright (Class of ‘59). Madam Secretary Albright and Jenn had their conversation at a dinner that was held for fellows in the Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley College.
“The Albright Institute is dedicated to and focused on giving women the interdisciplinary approach and resources they need to be leaders and make important contributions in international affairs,” said Jenn. “Secretary of State Albright is deeply involved in the institute; she teaches on campus and directly interacts with and mentors students.”
Jenn gives credit to those higher ed administrators who have mentored her professionally, particularly, Debbie Wright at Simmons College (now at Connecticut College); and at Smith College, Ann Wright (retired) and Nanci Tessier (now at the University of Richmond); and at Wellesley College, Janet Rapelye, who today is at Princeton University.
Jenn stays in touch with and sees in person frequently her OA friends and classmates, Amy (Sousa) Curtis, Ann McDonough, and Dee (LeGrow) Robbins. All the ladies live in Massachusetts.
"Amy and Ann and Dee are all great people. I value my friendship with all of them highly."
Jenn maintains a strong affection for Easton. She said that it was tough for her to lose a connection to the town when her parents sold the family home on Turnpike Street.
“There was so much that was wonderful about growing up in Easton," said Jenn. "In high school, the local history class that Mrs. Varella taught enforced in us an appreciation of the rich history and heritage of the town. I was fortunate to know that place, and to still have friends connected to the community.”