Expanding Access: Associate Director for Recruitment, Jamie-Lee Josselyn (C’05)

Our own Jamie-Lee Josselyn (C'05) travels all over the country visiting schools, summer writing institutes, and after-school arts projects in search of talented writers. To keep her traveling, more than one hundred people contributed to our Student Recruitment Fund this year, which, in addition to the Sayet-Rosenberg Fund for Young Writers, helps defray the cost of outreach. Thank you, to those who've contributed, for joining us to help ensure that our recruitment is as far-reaching as possible. We are especially grateful to Joan Kim (C'97, G'97, W'99) for making the inaugural gift to our Recruitment Fund and Harry Rosenberg and Laurie Sayet for their continuing vision in this area.

The position of Associate Director for Recruitment was new in 2012, but the Writers House has been recruiting students for years. What changed?

We've cared about bringing strong writers to Penn for a long time — The New York Times of all places took notice of our recruitment efforts back in 2007 — so I see this job as an expansion rather than a completely new initiative. We've wanted to be more proactive than reactive in our approach. I mean, instead of meeting and corresponding only with the students who find us, we've wanted to go out and find great young writers ourselves. And now we can! There are many, many stellar writers out there who either don't know about Penn at all, or who don't realize that it's a great place for creative people.

How do you choose the places you'll visit?

There is no exact formula, but it basically comes down to research and networking. We turn to Penn students and alumni who attended high schools and other programs with excellent writing faculty and workshops, and with their help, I've been able to connect with local teachers and advisors. One of the most exciting and inspiring aspects of this work has been the overwhelming enthusiasm we've received from those in our community. People have been generous with their time and information — and also financially, with the creation of our Student Recruitment Fund that quite literally enables my travel. Aside from visiting schools and writing programs, how do you reach out to promising writers?

One of our major methods of outreach this year involved contacting the guidance counselors and English teachers of students who won medals from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, which is a nationally renowned program. Student staffer Josie Elias (C'14) was instrumental in this project, by the way! Scholastic award recipients were then informed of our interest in their work, and many of them got in touch about applying to Penn.

We have also offered an online book group for prospective students this year, the first of its kind in our long-standing program primarily for alumni and Penn parents. This has been a way for prospective students to learn about some of our creative writing faculty, since the group featured writing by Paul Hendrickson, Lorene Cary (C'78, G'78), and Kenneth Goldsmith, plus it was led by me — and I teach an introductory nonfiction writing course in the Creative Writing Program. It was a lot of fun, an informal and energetic discussion about memoir writing that also enabled these great students from all over the country to get to know each other. We plan to do another group like this next year!

Do other schools recruit writers this way?

Not that we know of! We've gotten great feedback from the students we've worked with in the last few years — students and parents tell us frequently that they haven't encountered anything like us at other schools — and that goes for the Writers House community in general as well as our approach to stewarding prospective students.

Say I know a high school student interested in writing and Penn. Are there things she can do to strengthen her candidacy?

First, the student should contact me by email (jjossely@writing.upenn.edu) to introduce herself. If she is able to schedule a visit to campus, that's a great next step. I can meet with her at the Writers House and we can possibly arrange for her to sit in on a program or a writing class. If your friend isn't able to visit campus, no problem! We can be in touch by email, I can send a bunch of materials by mail, and she should (in any case) definitely check out our website to become familiar with our programs and other offerings. Prospective students can also send me writing samples by email. If it's possible to participate in a summer writing program to hone your skills, go for it! And if not, just write!