Sheila Rotella-Hicks, New Director of Enrollment

Ms. Sheila Hicks-Rotella joins the Admissions team amidst pandemic

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Credit: Alina Watson

Don’t be fooled by the mask, Ms. Hicks-Rotella is usually flashing her friendly smile. She sat down to have lunch with Mr. Wirtz to talk about her new position as new Director of Enrollment Management.

When Ms. Sheila Hicks-Rotella graduated from college, she was not entirely sure what she wanted to do professionally. Her volunteer work with AmeriCorps, where she spent a lot of time working with kids, helped her realize that she did not want to be a classroom teacher, but loved having kids around. At her alma mater, Dartmouth College, Ms. Hicks-Rotella assisted in admissions, which introduced her to the process and sent her on a clear trajectory to where she is now at Hackley.

Ms. Sheila Hicks-Rotella joined the Hackley community as the new Director of Enrollment Management on July 1, 2020. She replaces Mr. McColl, former Director of Admissions, who left this past year. Ms. Hicks-Rotella’s experience in admission spans over 15 years; she previously worked at Riverdale Country School as their Director of Financial Aid and Director of Middle and Upper School Admissions for 11 years. Before that, she worked on the West Coast at the Bush School in Seattle, WA, as the Interim Assistant Director of Admissions.

When she heard that Mr. McColl was leaving, Ms. Hicks-Rotella recalls wondering if it was her time to work at Hackley. She said she was drawn to “the academic excellence married with the strong connection to character” present at Hackley. When applying for the position of Director of Enrollment, Ms. Hicks-Rotella had to make a pitch advertising Hackley. She remembers going to the Hackley Website and finding the phrase “we go forth and spread beauty and light,” not thinking that anyone actually said that. However, she was inspired to hear about a middle school teacher who actually ends his classes with the motto. It seems to her that “every person connects to those things [mottos], that those are really things that are embodied by the people who work here.” She wanted to work in a school that she would love, because it is not just a job, it’s a community that she plans to be a member of.

Back in February, when Ms. Hicks- Rotella came to interview at Hackley before the pandemic made its mark on campus, she fondly remembers how impressed she was after having the opportunity to interact with a lot of teachers, students, division heads and parents. “Everyone seems to be so in love and dedicated to this school,” she said.

Unfortunately, it has been near impossible for Ms. Hicks-Rotella to have similar experiences since then due to the pandemic. Although she finds herself well supported by her colleagues, her plans to shadow students and sit in classes have been derailed with the new safety measures in place in classrooms. As an extrovert, she has found it hard spending so much time in her office and not being able to connect with the community.

Ms. Hicks-Rotella expected to make some small changes and tweaks to the admissions process, however, by starting her job during the onset of the coronavirus, she will have to majorly adapt admissions to become completely virtual. She notes the difficulties that come with this, from figuring out how to conduct interviews and how to show people the campus to finding a way to advertise Hackley without having them come visit. The most difficult aspect of the application process to mimic will be the connections and interactions that prospective students have with other students or teachers when they visit.

This year, interviews will happen after school on Zoom, which enables faculty to partake as well. Prospective students and their parents will be encouraged to join on two different devices, giving the admissions officer the opportunity to talk to each of them separately. Although Ms. Hicks-Rotella acknowledges that the interviews will feel different, she hopes it will still be a “memorable experience.” Virtual tours are also in the making, featuring drone shots of the campus and videos leading the viewer through the hallways. Ms. Hicks-Rotella wishes she could bring people on campus, but with the current safety precautions it will not be possible.

Outside of school, Ms. Hicks-Rotella spends a lot of her time finding fun things to do near her home in the Bronx with her two young kids. She also loves cooking and entertaining. Although she no longer plays, Ms. Hicks-Rotella was a competitive rugby player for more than a decade. When she played for Dartmouth, her team came in 7th for nationals.

Although her introduction to Hackley has been somewhat less than normal, Ms. Hicks-Rotella finds comfort in the fact that “we are all in this together” and looks forward to getting to know more of the community.