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Howrigan wins award for stand-out work with incoming students

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Penny Howrigan

Penny Howrigan

Nellie Tamboe

Nellie Tamboe

Penny Howrigan

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During the process of applying to JSC, many students have probably spoken to the enthusiastic Penny Howrigan, associate dean of enrollment services. Her dedication to TRIO students, as well as all other students, has led to her nomination and reception of the Carolyn Donahue Friend of Equal Opportunity Award.

This award is valued highly by Howrigan because she knew Donahue, who works in Admissions at UVM. “When I first started working at Johnson, which was 28 years ago, our paths crossed, and I just really admired her,” said Howrigan. “I just liked the way she worked with students, always putting them first. She had a way about her that was very professional, but very positive and encouraging. She was kind of a role model from afar . . . so it was just really humbling and it’s a great honor.”

Howrigan has worked alongside Vermont Student Assistant Corporation (VSAC) counselors, whose mission, according to their webpage, is to create opportunities for students who think that college is out of their reach.

Marti Kingsley, a VSAC counselor, was one of two people who nominated Howrigan for the award. “We worked together with a couple students she was trying to get in for the fall semester and they had some pretty special circumstances,” Howrigan said. “So we worked closely to make that happen, and I think she just appreciated me working with those students at the last minute.”

Karen Madden, director of academic support services, also nominated Howrigan. “We’ve worked together for a long, long time,” said Howrigan. “So she, I think, knows that I’m always a good advocate for students in the first-gen and low income categories, just because it’s a lot. The admission part is one thing, but then there’s the financial aid and just understanding how that all works. It’s like its own language.”

In her letter nominating Howrigan for the award, Madden noted that Howrigan continues her support of students long after they’ve enrolled in the college. “Penny has worked here for decades,” Madden said. “She’s very dedicated to students; she’s always the first one to meet their needs.”

“Students that I haven’t seen for a long time will stop and say, ‘Oh, I have a question because I’m really stuck. I forgot I had to do the FAFSA again,’” said Howrigan. “Of course we’ve got a great team in student financial services, but sometimes students just make a connection and they come by and I’m happy to help.”

Howrigan feels like the nominations were brought on by her steadfast work in admissions rather than a single past accomplishment. However, she noted that her work with last-minute applicants is particularly challenging because of how many things, like course selection and housing contracts, need to be completed. “It’s incredibly stressful for the student to try to navigate everything at the last minute, and some colleges would just say, ‘No. We’re not going to work with you, you can start the next semester.,’” Howrigan said. “But at Johnson we try to make that happen, and when you’ve got everybody across campus willing to help, it makes it possible. It’s nothing I can do alone.”

She stresses that her accomplishments are part of a team effort. “I have a great admissions team, so some of this is like, ‘Why me?’ because they do amazing work,” she said. “It takes a team and it’s everybody from student financial services to first year advising . . . I’m just really fortunate to work with good people and have great students.”

Howrigan noted that dedication to students who need support is simply something that Johnson, soon to be NVU, does. “I know it sounds cheesy, but we change lives,” she said. “You introduce a prospective student to all the opportunities here, and that never gets old for me. I’ve been here a long time. I believe in the place and I believe in the people who work here.”

Howrigan feels honored to do the work she does at JSC and is reminded of that at the end of each year. “Every graduation, when I see students walk across the stage and I know a little bit about them, just from the admissions process, and when I see them get their degree it just energizes me,” she said. “And then when I see them come back later as alumni and they just talk about what Johnson meant to them, I feel very privileged to do this work, so I’m just going to keep doing it.”

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Howrigan wins award for stand-out work with incoming students