Ten quick questions at Tulane: Jeff Schiffman, Director of Undergraduate Admissions

Deeya Patel, News Editor

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Tulane is home to many interesting people who influence the lives of students and shape the entire community. Some students, however, are only vaguely aware of the work these people do. Through our new column, Ten quick questions at Tulane, we hope to shed light on the lives, careers and initiatives of various figures at Tulane. To kick it off, we sat down with Jeff Schiffman to discuss his career at Tulane as the Director of University Admissions.

I remember when I was on campus for Destination Tulane, you said that you walked across the stage for your diploma at Tulane, and the very next day you were in the admissions office starting your new job. What made you stay at Tulane? 

I graduated from Tulane in 2005. When I graduated, it was very uncommon to stay in New Orleans after graduating. We had a reputation in the city of New Orleans for being the type of school where people would come to Tulane and then leave when they graduate. And I wanted to be someone that defied that stereotype and committed to a city that I had felt given me so much over four years, and I was like, “I’m gonna stay here.” So all the jobs I applied for when I graduated were here in New Orleans. I remember a lot of my friends were like “You’re staying here?” and I’m like “Yeah, this place is awesome.” So I knew I wanted to stay here.

I actually stayed here this summer and it’s such a different experience.

Doesn’t it give you a whole different appreciation when you’re here in the summer? Whenever I talk to current students I say you have to spend a summer here. Because for one, you develop a whole new group of friends, which I love, because you’re mixing different groups, and two, you are totally getting out of the Uptown bubble because The Boot means nothing to you in the summer. Instead, you’re experimenting with the Bywater and you’re exploring the Marigny. You gain such an appreciation for New Orleans, and that oftentimes gets students to stay here after graduation.

Describe a typical day in your life.

A typical day in my life is very atypical, because there’s never a day that’s the same. I’ll give you a couple things I did last week. I was doing Welcome to the Wave, which is a huge freshmen welcome program, and that was on Wednesday night. I kind of do the unofficial handoff to the Division of Student Affairs, and then I wake up the next morning, and then I start planning all of my high school visits that I’m about to go on this fall to recruit next year’s class. I’ll meet with a couple prospective students that day and at night I went to Baton Rouge to host a program for prospective students. We also have this project that we launched this summer called Essay Writing Project, so we have students who come from low-income backgrounds or they’re the first in their family to go to college an opportunity to submit their college essay to us, and then we’ll edit it and review it for them and send it back and let them know what we think about it, and so Wednesday I was chatting with a student and reading her essay … So yeah, that was probably four or five things I did in the last couple days.

Your workload reflects a lot Tulane students own busy schedules. How would you say you manage stress and stay positive?

I meditate every day. So I get to work and the very first thing I do before I even turn on my computer is meditate. I use the app Calm, and it has really been life-changing for me. Even if I get into work two hours late, the first thing I do is meditate. It just sets the stage for the day, and a lot of the things that used to stress me out, they don’t. The other thing I do is and I always recommend that students do this don’t charge your phone right next to your bed. And don’t use your phone as your alarm clock. Which I know is kind of hard in a dorm, but if you’re about to go to sleep at night and you’re on your phone reading about politics and looking at other people’s Instagram stories and then you go to bed, that’s going to be the last thing in your brain. 

As Director of Admissions, what has been your biggest goal that you are advancing towards with each incoming class?

We [have] a lot more progress we need to make on campus with diversity, and for us it’s not just one priority out there, it’s literally the main priority. So as I’m planning these high school visits, yeah, it’s important for me to go to these elite private schools that send a lot of kids to Tulane, but I’m also going to a lot more charter schools and public schools and under-resourced and community organizations I’ve never been to before. Because it’s almost more valuable for me to meet one single student at a public charter school that needs the resources of the college than 15 students from private schools who already know about the college application process. I think we’re on the right track, but I think we have a lot more progress we need to make. 

Can you clue us in on any new projects that admissions is working on?

We had a lot of new stuff last year with the Multicultural Fly-in program. We used [to] only have one of them a year and now we have two of them a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. One of the things we’re more excited about is expanded scholarships that are more niche, so for example, this year we’re introducing the Louisiana Excellence Award, and that’s a full-tuition scholarship that will be given out just to students from the state of Louisiana. We’re also looking into potentially having a scholarship for students from New Orleans who are interested in music. So the future of jazz musicians, we’re trying to create a scholarship for them as well … That’s probably the biggest thing we’re working on right now. 

I keep hearing that you lead a spin class in Uptown. Tell me more about that. 

I do. I teach a spin class, and to me, that’s my release. When things get really stressed out here, I go teach there and I love it. I always tell students if they want to take a class they can send me an Instagram message and I can put them in their first class for free. It’s right on Magazine Street. It’s called Romney Studios. It’s awesome. They offer spin classes, boxing and yoga. It’s becoming pretty popular with Tulane students. 

Where is one place you would recommend freshmen to go this weekend? 

Well, this coming weekend happens to be Southern Decadence, so if they really want to get crazy they can experience that. But I’m always proud that Southern Decadence isn’t just for queer students. It’s for everyone, it’s for allies, and we even see the straight frat boys come down and really enjoy it. And that’s something that I think has changed a lot in the last ten years. I think our campus has become a more open and accepting place, which I love. Another thing I’d recommend they do this weekend, I think Labor Day weekend is a great weekend for a first picnic at The Fly. I think The Fly is a really good gathering space for students, you can walk there, you can bring food and just hang out, so as a first year student, The Fly is a great place to connect with your friends and meet older students … I think as Tulane reaches out to students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, I would encourage our freshmen to be cognizant that if you’re going to go do something, make sure it’s something that everyone in your group can afford, and don’t just assume everyone in your group can go out to really expensive places to eat. Southern Decadence is free, going to The Fly is free, so think about things that are socioeconomically inclusive. 

What is one thing you would recommend any Tulane student do on campus?

I would say find a mentor. I think in high school I think the idea of finding mentors isn’t that necessary and having a relationship with your teacher outside of school isn’t that normal, but in college it’s really normal to find teachers that are mentors, teachers that can write letters of recommendation. Find teachers who you can reach out to when you’re in need of support. I would say aside from finding mentors, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it be the Goldman Center, Success Center, Center of Academic Equity. Ask for help if you need it. 

Okay, last one. When was the last time you surprised yourself? 

I guess it was this past weekend. I just got engaged, and my partner Drew and I went down to the French Quarter to take some engagement photos. We’re not a mushy couple by any means, but I surprised myself by really enjoying it. Some are super goofy, and it was just so much fun. 

Rainy day in New Orleans