With nearly 30 years of experience in higher education administration, Jamie Costello '89 is sure of one thing: Some things change, some things stay the same.
Costello is the associate vice president and dean of students at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. In June, she was elected president of Connecticut College's Alumni Association Board of Directors, becoming the first person of color to serve in that role.
"When they told me that, I was like, ‘Oh, that's great, and that's really sad at the same time,'" said Costello. "Issues change, but they stay the same, too."
Costello attended predominantly white schools while growing up in the Northeast, so being underrepresented on campus was nothing new to her. Still, she was surprised to find that many of her white classmates at Conn weren't used to being around students of color.
"That was the vibe I got. I had friends my first year, but I didn't totally feel comfortable," she said.
That changed sophomore year, when Costello became close with Pamela Holmes Saxton '89.
"She was one of those people who was just out there doing stuff. I took my lead from her, and I just started to get involved. By the time I graduated, this was my home," she said.
An internship led to Costello's first job as an admission counselor for Wheelock College. She went on to earn a master's degree from Teachers College of Columbia University and a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Boston College.
Costello, who majored in sociology-based human relations at Conn, spent nine years as a class dean at Babson College before taking a position at MassArt in 2008.
"I know nothing about art—I took my art history class pass-fail," she said. "But our students are fabulously talented, and they've taught me so much. They are such individuals. It makes me feel like I can be whoever I want to be and I'm accepted for that."
Over 27 years, Costello says she has seen higher education become increasingly customer-focused, and colleges are evolving to respond more rapidly to student needs.
One growing need is for mental health support.
"One of the biggest changes I've seen is the number of students coming to college with mental health issues. Thirty years ago, a lot of these kids just didn't go to college. Now they are coming and they are being successful, but we need to make sure we have the services and the support they need."
For Costello, who lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children, the Alumni Association is a bit of a homecoming. She served on the Undergraduate Alumni Board as a student and joined the Alumni Association in 2012, serving as vice president and as secretary prior to being elected president.
In her new role, Costello hopes to reconnect more alumni of color with the institution and help increase alumni participation rates.
"I want to make sure we are an alumni board not just in name, but that we are making a real difference for alumni, the College and the students," she said.
Costello also wants to encourage alumni to take full advantage of the Conn network.
"There is just something about people who have gone to Connecticut College," she said. "I would never hesitate to pick up the phone and call any one of them if I needed support or had a question. We have a beautiful campus, but it's really about the community."