People of the Year: Teresa Olsen


Teresa Olsen

Karrie Spychalski and Julia Klein, Editor-In-Chief and Executive Editor

Each year, The Colgate Maroon-News chooses a topic to highlight for a Special Edition. This December, our theme is “People of the Year,” modeled after Time Magazine’s annual “Person of the Year” issue. In this special section, we have profiled sixteen individuals who have had made significant—and perhaps lesser-known—impacts on Colgate’s campus this year, be they in the classroom, at the football field or even on the Cruiser. Inside, read about what defines them as worthy of recognition.

Assistant Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Director of Career Services by day and Old Bay mac and cheese masterchef by night, Teresa Olsen can usually be found in the brand new center for career services, Benton Hall, advising students and greeting community members with the “Colgate Hello.”

A graduate of Colby College, a small liberal arts college in a rural area in Maine not dissimilar to Colgate, Olsen is familiar with the interconnectedness of the Colgate community and the relationships it fosters.

Olsen describes the path she took to work in career services as a really good mistake. After college, she began working for AmeriCorps where she created a mentorship program for Colby, pairing college students with at-risk children. She went on to earn her Master’s degree in higher education and administration from Indiana University, home to 40,000 students, in search of a different academic environment.

“What I found was that I missed the relationships. I really really missed the relationships,” Olsen said.

Having worked at Colgate now for 12 and a half years, first as a career advisor and now as Director of Career Services, Olsen finds that what makes Colgate unique is the same thing she missed when attending a larger graduate school.

“We get incredibly invested in our students so by the time they are seniors, we feel very compelled to make sure that they are in the best space. We care a lot about them and they care a lot about us too,” Olsen said.

When Olsen first heard about plans to build Benton Hall, she was “over the moon.” She noted that Benton Hall, which opened earlier this year, was the final step in a five-year strategic plan to increase student engagement with Career Services. The process, which began in 2012 after the Board of Trustees was concerned with what Colgate could do to help students be more prepared for their careers follow- ing the economic recession, led to the development of Sophomore Connections, a revamped Day in the Life program, deeper relationships with the alumni network and immersion trips.

“Probably the most influential catalyst for driving [the development of Benton Hall] was the Board of Trustees,” Olsen said. “What it came down to is that we have amazing students and incredible alumni who want to help out. That hasn’t changed over time. But we needed to create a structure and a system and resources for students that would help to facilitate that process. So that was the gap that we wanted to address.”

The strategy immediately bolstered student engagement with Career Services, with 85 percent of the student body utilizing its resources as of last year. Olsen also noted that career services reached 94 percent of last year’s sophomore class.

“[Benton Hall] was actually one of the last major pieces of our strategic plan to come to fruition. So it’s funny because a lot of people think, okay, now you’re in Benton Hall and you’re staff’s going to increase and your student engagement is going to increase. But we actually got to a really high level and then moved to Benton Hall,” Olsen said. “Our opportunity and our challenge now is to sustain that and not only look at the level of our engagement but the quality of it.”

Olsen sees the building as a hub for engagement through interactions with faculty members and different student groups.

“If you were to walk in here on any given day you would see that four faculty are teaching in Benton Hall. That never would have happened in Spear House,” Olsen said. “So we’re thinking about students who might not have found themselves in Spear House but might find themselves here now for various reasons.”

Olsen’s job, which is constantly changing, requires interactions with employers on a daily basis. The new technology supported within the building has been crucial for bringing employers to campus who might not have previously been able to be physically present.

“Being able to say to an employer, it’s okay if you can’t travel here from San Francisco, we can host you in a virtual info session no problem, erases the complexity of our location a little bit. It’s a huge game changer,” Olsen said.

Olsen’s favorite part of her job is her interactions with the 26 student interns that Career Services employs.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ask employers to hire your students if you’re not willing to do it yourself,” she said.

Olsen also appreciates that even after all her time at Colgate, “gnarly” challenges are constantly thrown at her.

“I like the fact that [my job is] not static and it’s not easy,” she said. A mother of two (to Ellie, nine and a half, and Collin, 11 and a half ), Olsen says that being a working mother is no small feat.

“I think our female students especially need to see women who are attempting to pull it off,not that I do it well on a daily basis; trust me, I crash like a normal person. But there are days where you can be excellent in every aspect of your life. It’s important that students see both sides,” she said.

In her spare time, Olsen can be found at the Trudy Fitness Center getting some well-deserved personal time, or binge-watching “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

“I love people’s narratives and I love stories…I [also] appreciate women with sass and with swagger,” Olsen said.

Olsen wishes that every Colgate student could know their “superpower” before pursuing career opportunities.

“When you feel like you have something wonderful to offer you’ll instinctively have the confidence and self-efficacy about you that I think actually brings a lot of people out of their shell,” she said.

Her last bit of advice to Colgate students urges them to be gracious and respectful.

“Being polite and gracious and thoughtful takes people way further than they ever anticipate or expect,” she said.

Contact Karrie Spychalski and Julia Klein at [email protected] and [email protected].