Meet Thyra Briggs, vice president for admission and financial aid and the recipient of the 2020 Henry T. Mudd Prize, an award that recognizes extraordinary service. Awardees receive $6,000, $3,000 of which is designated for use within the College at the discretion of the recipient. Briggs, a staff member since 2007, donated her prize to the Employee Emergency Relief Fund (see page 4). Her award citation acknowledges her service “with integrity, collegiality, kindness and good humor” and “her direct involvement in the life of every Mudder for the past 13 years.”
What do you remember about your own college admission experience?
Unfortunately, I don’t remember being nearly as together as the Harvey Mudd applicants I meet now. I remember applying to many of the same colleges my friends were and choosing one that was only a couple of hours from home. Granted, it ended up being the perfect place for me, but I so admire these students who are, in some cases, willing to fly across the country or the world to try a new experience. I remember being nervous for my interviews despite the fact that I’ve always been a talkative person, so I try to keep that in mind when I interview students who are more nervous.
Why did you want to work in the college admission field?
During my senior year of college, I was a senior interviewer for my college’s admission office, and I loved getting these little snapshot views of the students’ world. When you get emails (or back then, letters) thanking you for the role you played in someone’s college decision, it’s really an honor. I also realized that I was going to be able to spend my life seeing students at their absolute best and being trusted to make decisions that would help take the next step in their education, and I can’t imagine anything better.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, what have been the biggest changes to the way you recruit prospective students?
We’ve all realized that the pandemic has further exacerbated the inequities in society, and so one of our primary challenges has been meeting students wherever they are in regard to their access to stable Wi-Fi. We have appreciated the opportunity to reach students in areas where we haven’t been able to travel in the past, but figuring out the best way to connect with and support the many students who are struggling to meet the demands of their school while also helping their families has been a challenge.
College admission work requires a lot of traveling. Do you have a memorable moment from one of your recruitment trips?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to travel for HMC for the past 13 years. Two of my most memorable trips have involved my international travel. The first was finally seeing the Taj Mahal after visiting India for five or six years, and the other was eating fondue in a little hut in the parking lot of a Crowne Plaza in Geneva with my fellow Claremont admission colleagues. Apparently the smell of the cheese led them to move the fondue outside the hotel.
You’ve been recognized for being an incredible leader. What leadership principles have led to your success?
First, it’s humbling to hear that and greatly appreciated. I think I’ve learned from many colleagues and staff members over the years about the importance of leading by example but also of leading in such a way that ultimately your staff wants to do your job. I’m proud of all of the staff with whom I have worked, and I’m honored that so many of my staff members have stayed in the field and gone on to lead their own offices.
Your Mudd Prize citation also mentioned how you like to share “delicious desserts.” What are a few of your favorite recipes?
Cooking is therapy to me, and it’s been hard to not be able to share my cooking now with our office. While I think I’m known for my carrot cake, my favorite baking was making the state dessert of all 50 states with my friend who is the VP for enrollment at Scripps. Someday we’ll publish the blog we wrote while baking!