Katherine Luellen – Executive Dean, Enrollment Management, Interlochen Center for the Arts

Katherine Luellen - Executive Dean, Enrollment Management, Interlochen Center for the Arts
About Katherine Luellen

A Chicago native, Katherine Drago Luellen (@kidrago329) has previously served as Director of Admissions at Boston University School of Music, Director of Recruitment & Enrollment for Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, Assistant Dean of Admission & Student Services for Longy School of Music of Bard College, and Assistant Director of Admission/Music Admission Coordinator for University of Puget Sound.

Ms. Drago has spent over 10 years performing professionally in opera, concert, and musical theater appearing with the Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Broadway National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera, and many more. She was most recently seen in the title role of Tobias Picker’s Therese Raquin with Microscopic Opera in Pittsburgh and Mercedes in Carmen with Bay Chamber Concerts.

Mrs. Luellen has been a guest speaker with the Pacific Northwest Association of College Admission Counselors, Decision Desk U, Music Admission Roundtable, Classical Singer, and Opera America.

Connect with Katherine: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Interlochen Center for the Arts

Boston University School of Music

Carnegie Mellon University School of Music

Longy School of Music of Bard College

University of Puget Sound

Pacific Northwest Association of College Admission Counselors (PNACAC)

Music Admissions Roundtable

Classical Singer

Opera America

Santa Fe Opera

Pittsburgh Opera

Chicago Opera Theater

Broadway National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera

Tobias Picker’s Therese Raquin

Bay Chamber Concerts

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Katherine Luellen. She is the executive Dean enrollment manager at the Interlochen Centre for the Arts. A Chicago native, Katherine has previously served as Director of Admissions at Boston University School of Music, Director of Recruitment & Enrollment for Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, Assistant Dean of Admission & Student Services for Longy School of Music.

Sam Demma (01:05):
Every position she’s been in over the past 10 years, she’s been involved in professionally, you know, setting up opera in concert, in musical theater, appearing on the Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Chicago Opera, Broadway National Tour of the Phantom of the Opera, and so much more. She is a music fanatic and the heart of her passion is helping young talent reach extraordinary stages and heights. This is an amazing interview. She helps so many young people get into amazing positions for success. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed recording it. I will see you on the other side. Katie, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by telling our audience a little bit about yourself and how you got into your work with education?

Katherine Luellen (01:55):
Great. Well, thank you Sam, for having me. I’m delighted to be here. I am the executive Dean of Enrollment Management at the Interlochen Center for the Arts and Interlochen in Michigan. So we are known for a world class summer arts camp that was found in 1928 that serves 3000 students in seven arts areas every summer. We also have our Arts Boarding High School here. We have our College for Creative Arts serving lifelong education and some programming virtually in the Interlochen online space. So I manage recruitment and enrollment for all of the education units at Interlochen and I found myself here quite by accident. And I am an, a recovering opera singer is what I like to say. I was trained in opera and musical theater and had a, a nice run and a wonderful time performing and traveling and being on the stage and

Katherine Luellen (02:55):
At a certain point in time, I took a breath and really wanted to make an impact in a different way. Hmm. And I wasn’t sure what that way was. But I thought about what skills I had and what experiences I had and through my education, actually, one of the ways I supported my education was working in the admission office at the various colleges and institutions I attended. And that was a way I thought to connect with young people and their families to help talk about what a creative education can do for a young person. So I pivoted, I guess that might be the buzzword of 2020 to enrollment. And I worked at a small liberal arts college on the west coast. I’ve worked at a large research institution. I’ve worked at a small boutique conservatory, all usually within the arts realm. And so when Interlochen called me, I thought, well, this is interesting because this isn’t just college. This is, this is really little ones, right? Third grade, this is grownups. This is really fostering that lifelong support of the arts and creative energy. So it’s been a really cool ride and a really nice fit for me.

Sam Demma (04:11):
Tell me more about that moment, where you took a new breath and decided you wanted to make an impact, where exactly were you at that point in your career and what really prompted you to make that decision?

Katherine Luellen (04:22):
Oh my gosh, it was crazy. I was sitting in my apartment in New York. I had about a year’s worth of work scheduled ahead of me. I was in the finals of a major international opera competition and I didn’t feel like I was making any of my own artistic decisions. Mm. I was on stage watching a human with Dick monitoring the music I was dressed as, you know, indicated by the costume designer. I was, you know, told where to go by the director. And so that’s not always the case. Right. Mm-hmm , these, these artistic experiences are much more collaborative than what I just outlined. But for me, I felt like I just, you know, you can’t see the odd there’s that fourth wall. And I wanted to have a deeper connection with the arts and with young people to create a generation that would collaborate differently on stage, that would be, that would push the arts to new audiences.

Katherine Luellen (05:22):
And I think we’re seeing that. But it felt like my role wasn’t correct in that journey yet at that moment that it wasn’t maybe all facets of my brain, weren’t firing cause of what I was being given. And so I, I jumped off a moving train and onto another train that was cool and fun. And and I learned really like in the fire, you know, I actually remember my first admission job and calling my father who’s a finance person. And I literally said to him, dad, I, I have so many Excel questions. I just I’m, I’m just drowning Excel questions. Cause I’ve been an artist for 10 years. And so here is this just sort of skill I’m that I, I need to catch up on. I need to catch up on databases, I’m Excel. And but it was fun and your enrollment is inherently creative. It’s about communicating. It’s about being intuitive and the connections you’re making. And and I talk about the arts every day. And so I’m very, very lucky.

Sam Demma (06:35):
The process you outlined about jumping a, off a moving train and onto another one in the fire is what education is like right now. It feels like everyone was jumping off a moving train going in one direction and we’re going a totally opposite direction with the challenges we’re currently faced with. Can you speak a little bit to the challenges that you guys are facing? Some maybe that you’ve overcome and some that you’re still dealing with?

Katherine Luellen (06:59):
Now for sure. So just to, I guess, outline this pandemic season of education for interlock and in the springtime we transitioned our 93rd summer season to a fully virtual experience interlock and online. If we took 98 programs for grades three through 12 and distilled them into 13 programs that were three weeks long in a virtual platform and it was wildly successful, we had almost 1500 students. And we really leaned on our alumni across the world in industry seminars to offer students experiences, to talk and engage and feel inspired with professionals that they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise that only interlocking could give them. And so, you know, that paired with the foundational training in all of our arts areas was really something that was special about our program. We even sent everyone a camp in a box, everybody got a shirt and a lanyard and an ID card and camp fire like activity for and friendship bracelets.

Katherine Luellen (08:10):
And, you know, we wanted students to feel engaged in the community and our virtual cabins and that social connection was something that was really successful and has actually still continued even to now there’s a core group of hardcore virtual cabins from rock and online that are still going. So we learned a lot from that experience and we had our interlock and arts academy, high school students went home in March a little early for spring break, packed up and we had hoped, of course they’d come back, but they weren’t able to, but we were very lucky this fall to be able to welcome almost 500 students to our campus for live instruction. Nice. So we’ve created kind of a contained community as we are calling it, cuz faculty and staff are coming and going, but we’ve partnered with the broad Institute at MIT for testing and we have significant safety protocols in place and it’s not easy and it hasn’t been for these young people.

Katherine Luellen (09:05):
Mm-Hmm I think that, you know, we, when you think of the silver lining that these people are here, that they’ve persevered, that they’re showing that grit that gosh, we’ve been talking to met in college admission for year. Right. How do you, how do you show the grit show? The perseverance? Well, this proves it. Yeah. You know, I went to boarding school in Northern Michigan in a pandemic because I knew I wanted to create art and I knew I wanted to be amongst a, a community of likeminded people and it, you know, by golly the pandemic wasn’t gonna stop me. And so that’s the kind of students we have here. And they’re, they’re joyfully working and that’s what we like to say here and, and creating that art. But it’s not easy. Staying six feet apart wearing a mask is not easy for a grownup let alone a teenager.

Katherine Luellen (09:52):
So every day we like to say is day one in our fighting COVID 19. And we’ve learned, you know, just a ton about safety. basically in health and we’ve leaned on professionals in our community. Of course. We also have 50 students international who are learning virtually with us who are not able to get to our campus. So we’ve created, created a hybrid model. So, you know, when I talk to families, they’ll say, well, it’s like a virtual high school. It’s not, we haven’t created a virtual high school. We are really serving our students and accommodating the conditions that we’re in. That’s a whole different, you know, ball of wax. But yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s an adventure certainly. Not where we thought we would be probably right.

Sam Demma (10:40):
No. So true. I love the camp and a box idea. I thought that was very unique and no wonder it’s a huge success. I’m curious to know if you have any other things like that that have been widely successful so far maybe little insights or ideas that another educator listening might say, wow, this is a great idea. Let me try this. Any come to mind?

Katherine Luellen (11:00):
For sure. I mean, in the summertime our most popular elective course for any student was something called college bootcamp college prep bootcamp. And of course that’s on everyone’s mind. And these students who are looking for colleges right now in a virtual space, it it’s totally different. How higher ed is reacting in the United States and across the world to, you know, finding the right fit or students engaging with them and how that demonstrated interest plays into decision making. This is totally a new landscape. We see lots of institutions thriving and we see some floundering a little bit in it. And so I think students really were hungry to engage with professionals in the college counseling space and utilize some of the excellent pathway curriculum we have for our academy students. But so they could feel a sense of, I don’t wanna say control, but more just calm perhaps mm-hmm about the process. I have a plan, I have some things to think about. I know it’s going to be different, let’s acknowledge what’s different about it and make a plan. And so that was really successful and actually we’ve launched a bootcamp for college audition prep in November nice, which is gonna be really awesome for music and theater students. But I think that just creating that calm for students in a high stress decision making time was really helpful for them.

Sam Demma (12:30):
That’s awesome. That’s really cool. And, and, you know, you talked about moving from opera to education and I wanna touch upon one thing real quick. When you were a student, did you have any teachers in your life or educators in your life that made a profound impact on you? And the reason I’m asking is because there’s a couple that stick out in my mind for my whole experience in school, one being Mike loud foot, my world issue teacher who put me on a totally different path in life. But the reason I’m asking is because I wanna know what it was that your educators in your life did and what their character traits were or what the things they did for you that had a huge impact. So maybe during this time another educator listening might try to adopt those same character traits so they can, you know, impact their students the same way. Does any educator come to mind for you?

Katherine Luellen (13:19):
There? I mean, there are so, so many, I’ll be honest with you that it’s, I think education is, is the I don’t know, I hold it in the highest esteem in terms of what faculty do. And I come from a, a long line of educators. And so I’ve seen both sides of the desk and the classroom experience and really personally, and, and the work and intuition and gut and heart that go into it is really amazing. You know, what’s funny for me and it could just be a personality trait. Mm-Hmm, the, the educators that come to mind for me that were most influential are the ones that really told me the truth. Mm. And especially in the arts, I think that’s, those are hard conversations. Yeah. Sometimes you know but even, I think of like my freshman, sophomore year English teachers in high school, who I attribute to helping me learn to write, which I now do every day as a part of my job.

Katherine Luellen (14:19):
Yeah. And they were really, really honest with me, you know, and it wasn’t a good grade always. And that pushed me to learn and pushed me to try and pushed me to maybe it’s again, taking that breath to say, I didn’t, I didn’t do this well. And why, why didn’t I do this? Well, mm-hmm, like, what, what were the barriers that are keeping me from making that to the next level? And even with the arts, right. It’s having those conversations of taking potential and passion and how do you mold that into the right purpose? Mm. And that doesn’t always mean the Broadway stage or the metropolitan and opera, the schau pair it’s, there are so many ways that can make a difference. So I have one quick line, my voice teacher in grad school always used to say, Katie, you gotta do it again. And you gotta put it in the talent, put it in the talent. And I kind of think about that all the time. Like, come on Kate, put it in the talent. Like, where’s your talent, where’s your, your space that, that helps you make the best decisions succeed the most, you know, put it there. And I dunno, that probably was not very succinct answer.

Sam Demma (15:37):
No, that’s awesome. And I hope everyone can, cuz when you were saying that I was envisioning my soft spot and my sweet spots and where I can put it in the talent. So I hope everyone else takes that to heart and thinks about it personally, or maybe shares it with their class and their students. if you could give advice to your former self, when you just started working in education, what advice would you have given knowing what you know now?

Katherine Luellen (16:04):
Oh my gosh. In education. I think what I know now is that I never have all the information nice. And I think that I, I didn’t always think that way early on. I thought, well, here’s all the information. Here’s everything about this applicant. Here’s everything I know about the finances of this family. If I’m looking at financial aid or about this event or whatever it is, but you never have all information. And so every decision you’re making, you’re making in a, in a space where you’re trying to do the right thing based on the information you have. Mm. Understanding that there’s nimbleness to that there’s flex to that there’s gray area. And especially in the work that I do where talented young people are trying to make the right next choice for them. And financial aid is a part of that and family commitment and family circumstances and all of those things are wildly complicated. I used to joke in college that on April 1st, everyone loses their mind, like all families that were lovely students who, you know, just stay in the course and then the dollars and cents become involved and people lose their minds. Cause it’s personal, it’s complicated and we don’t have all the information. So you just have to kind of listen and give people a space to give you the information they can or are able or willing to in many decision making situations and go from there.

Sam Demma (17:39):
Yeah. That’s awesome. It’s an amazing piece of advice. And not only does it apply to, you know, getting people in through admission, but it also applies to, you know, everyday students. I don’t think we ever have all the information as, as good as we try to get to know somebody. So, you know, try and make as little assumptions as you can and listen twice as much as you speak. You know, one of my teachers told me you have two ears in one mouth, you know, it means you have to listen twice as much as you talk.

Katherine Luellen (18:03):
absolutely. I agree. And you know, it’s funny with these young artists too, they be so hard on themselves counting the number of mistakes they made and a performance or an audition. And I often will tell them you’re never a hundred percent. There’s my dog friends. That’s OK. Life at home. So you know, you’re never in any performance, a hundred percent, you’re, you’re always you’re always fighting something. And so maybe it’s a dog barking, you know? And so you just have to take it with a grain of salt.

Sam Demma (18:38):
Oh, that’s true. Awesome. Katie, if someone wants to reach out, bounce some ideas around, share some good vibes and energy, where can they reach out to you and have those conversations?

Katherine Luellen (18:48):
Oh my gosh, I would love to do the I’m so eager to just be a sounding board and have other sounding board friends out there in the universe who do good work or who seek to do good work. So I’m easy to reach. I’m just katie@interlochen.org. I’m super here for, for everybody who wants to talk our arts or education or opera or musical theater or dogs, you know.

Sam Demma (19:16):
awesome. Katie, thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s been a real pleasure having this conversation with you. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episode, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Katherine Luellen

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.