The Other Side of The Table: Emily Benoit’s Journey from UChicago Soccer to TFA and Her Return to UChicago to Work in Admissions
When did you start playing soccer? What made you want to continue to play soccer at the DIII collegiate level?
I have always been very sport inclined. I tried out other sports and remember being the only girl on my tee-ball team. I started playing soccer when I was five years old, and I guess it’s the sport that stuck more than anything else. Going into the recruiting process, I knew I wanted to continue playing in college. I am a very competitive person, but the team aspect was also incredibly important to me. When I visited the University of Chicago, I noticed that the team was like a family, and everyone there was fully committed to putting in the time and effort. I knew at the DIII level, I could balance sports with academics. I also am from a smaller town in Michigan and wanted to explore a new, bigger city.
How was your academic experience at University of Chicago?
I really enjoyed the Core curriculum at the University of Chicago because it exposed me to so many different disciplines. I have always been interested in current events, but I also took a really interesting class about urban planning, where we studied the development and organization of cities. I ended up majoring in Political Science, but I was not exactly sure what I wanted to pursue post-graduation. I remember asking myself, “what do I want to with this experience?"
You eventually joined Teach For America. How did you come to the decision that that experience was best for you?
TFA’s mission to create an equitable educational experience for all students resonated with me. I attended Catholic schools my whole life, and I wanted to learn more about the ins and outs of public education. I ended up teaching both first and second grade at a school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The school I taught at faced a host of challenges from budget cuts to losing allocations for teachers which made each day a challenge. When I was teaching, I approached the classroom as a team. I was there to build my students up and guide them along the way.
What made you come back to Chicago and start working in Admissions at the University of Chicago?
After Teach for America, I knew I wanted to come back to Chicago. In my time away, I had the ability to reflect on how much I loved the city. I also knew I wanted to stay in education, but I was not exactly sure what that would look like. I knew some people in the admissions department at the University of Chicago and ended up really enjoying the work. This is my 6th year in the office where I currently serve as an Associate Director of Admissions.
In the six years you've been with admissions, how have you grown both personally and professionally?
Throughout my six years in the office, I think I have been able to better identify my own strengths as well as how the skills that I have learned as an admissions counselor would translate into other professions and different types of work. I have also enjoyed continuing to be part of a team and learning how to navigate and manage the group process that is so critical for having successful outcomes.
What are some aspects of your job that you particularly enjoy?
I think that the college admissions process has become very intense and stressful for high school students. Ultimately, my goal is to help students navigate the college search and application process. An aspect of my job that I enjoy are the various phases of the cycle: the first part of the year is a lot of traveling and reading applications, and the second part is planning on-campus events for admitted students.
A lot of my role in admissions requires me to be proactive when attacking different projects. I currently oversee many of our on-campus programs for high school counselors, prospective students, and admitted students, as well as some off-campus programs. I enjoy the event planning process and being strategic about creating the best possible experience for people when they visit campus or interact with UChicago all over the world.
What are some challenges that you face working in admissions? Are there any misconceptions about building a career in this space?
In recent years, the volume of applicants has increased. We look at so many aspects of the application, but sometimes we have to make tough decisions when building each class. In terms of misconceptions, I think the field of education is very stigmatized and not well respected which is problematic in terms of recruiting top talent who can make change happen. However, I have encountered incredibly dedicated individuals throughout my time in the classroom and as an admissions counselor who serve as great reminders of why working in this field is so rewarding and dynamic.
What are your career goals going forward?
This is my third and final year at the School of Social Services Administration. I chose this particular graduate program because they have an administrator track that focuses on policy and management in non-profit organizations. I recently accepted a position as the Director of University and Careers Counseling at a high school in Shanghai. I am looking forward to continuing my work in higher education but on the other side of the desk where I can build relationships with my students and their families while helping navigate the college process.
Do you find any similarities between soccer and your current role?
I would say teamwork is an important lesson that remains quite relevant in the work that I do now. When I was captain my senior year, we had eleven incoming first years. We had to figure out how best to integrate them and fast, so that our team could be successful. The most important part is showing awareness of people’s backgrounds and personalities and how that affects their experience in the group process. My experience as a captain has made me realize the importance of team dynamics.
What advice do you have for current student-athletes?
I think it is really important to maintain those friendships that you had with your teammates. I miss when some of my best friends used to live down the hall from me. It’s much more difficult to see each other now. It is also important to realize that the skills that you learn from playing sports are very transferable to the workplace no matter the field. It is important to market yourself as someone who has had experience working with a disciplined team.