Bio & Résumé
MA, English, University of Pennsylvania
BA, English, University of Cincinnati
I’m certainly not the only writer/critic/editor/creative-writing teacher to use the A-B-D-C-E narrative formula. But in 1997, my life-long training coalesced when the editorial suggestions I gave to Anand Ahuja, the son of my former next-door neighbors, proved instrumental (according to Princeton) to his gaining admission there (and 7 other ultra-selective schools), and to Harvard where he attained his MBA. We formed Uniquely U. together.
At the heart of my methods and my expertise is the formal Aristotelian-rooted training I attained by studying with Austin Wright at the University of Cincinnati, underscored in graduate school studying under Arthur Scouten at the University of Pennsylvania, and burnished by my own professional career. All continually taught me to respect the power of the transcribed act of self-discovery – that familiar yet unexpected visceral jolt that Melville termed “the shock of recognition.”
I had other preparation. The ultra competitive six-year college-prep public high school I attended in Cincinnati (Walnut Hills HS), embedded in me an irreverent savvy when it came to knowing exactly what elite colleges are looking for. There were 23 National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists in my graduating class of 304. Still we had our share of nervous breakdowns and bulimia even then. I know, up close, the needless stress all that can engender.
Fortunately, growing up in the Midwest also taught me there were saner ways to choose a college. My own now-grown children attended the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Iowa, two of the great public land grant colleges that are one of this country’s most important assets.
From 19 years of guiding high school seniors to their own unique personal discoveries, I know, as do few others, the compressed energy it’s possible for a “mere” college essay to pack. Indeed, I believe the resulting personal statements (as amazing as they invariably prove to be) are almost secondary to the process of coming face to face with the unexpected connection that is always waiting – if you know how and where to help someone look for it.
Scientific validation came in 2007, when I came across Benedict Carey’s article in The New York Times: “This Is Your Life (And How to Tell It),” 5/22/2007, which spotlighted psychologist-researchers whose work underscored my own.
Featured in Carey’s article was Dan McAdams, PhD, Director, The Foley Center for the Study of Lives, School of Education & Social Policy, Northwestern University, and author of The Redemptive Self: Stories American Live By, (Oxford University Press, 2006). Moreover, I came across this passage in his introduction:
…(M)any high school counselors in the United States today strongly urge their college-bound seniors to write personal essays that document the ways they have overcome adversity. College admissions officers appear to value these redemptive accounts quite highly, sometimes even assigning extra points to an applicant’s file for especially compelling stories of resilience, recovery, defying the odds, and the like…. (R)edemption helps to move the life story forward.
The observation didn’t go nearly deep enough, but there was another “coincidental?” connection. In the last paragraphs of The Redemptive Self, McAdams quotes Austin Wright, who, at some point since I’d had him as an American Lit teacher 30 years earlier, had become a well-reviewed novelist with self-redemption as his theme.
McAdams and I communicated by email. “Keep up the good work,” he said.
The result is the 2012 Uniquely U. Longitudinal Survey.