For Chelby Tookey, the Work is About the People

April 11, 2022
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Chelby Tookey is one of the first people prospective students meet for the MS in Psychology and MA in Counseling programs. Even when they don’t interact with her directly, the senior admissions counselor is working behind the scenes to make sure all the details of their application and admissions process go according to plan.
Tookey started her career as a school counselor at KIPP Nashville, a college-preparatory, public charter school. She moved into school operations, eventually rising to become KIPP St. Louis High School’s first Dean of Operations. In that role, she oversaw procurement, facilities management, technology, and enrollment – “everything but teaching!” she said.
She was looking to change careers and move when she saw an employment listing for PAU on LinkedIn. She applied, but when her future supervisor, Alaina Dunn, Assistant Vice President of Admissions, called with more information, they both discovered Tookey would be a much better fit for the Senior Admissions Counselor position. She began working at PAU in September 2019.
Now, she reviews prospective student applications, answers prospective student’s questions, hires student employees for her programs, sends admissions communications, and onboards new students as they’re admitted.
Tookey sees all kinds of prospective students. “I’ve seen applications from attorneys, CEOs, early Google employees…professions you wouldn’t necessarily link to psychology or counseling,” she said. “Those are interesting stories to read.” 
Tookey called those students “career changers.” Her team sees enough people who are looking to switch careers that they held a panel of career changers webinar last year. 
“There are some students for whom this is their dream. This is their time,” Tookey said. “Their emails are bursting with gratitude. That’s a good feeling to have. There are some jobs where no one ever says thank you or you don’t get to see what’s on the other side of your work. But whenever there’s an applicant who gets admitted and they are so thrilled about it, that’s a real person, with a real dream that is now coming to fruition. That’s an exciting experience to be part of.” 
Tookey also works with a student DEI committee that supports the Admissions team in making graduate school more accessible to all students. 
The committee helps PAU examine how scholarships are distributed, the interview questions for each program, recruitment strategies, and more. “It’s great to have student voices amidst work that is so student-centric,” she said. “While we [staff] might have students’ best interests in mind, and want to do the best we can to support incoming students, the current student voice is very powerful. It’s great to collaborate with students in that way. They teach us a lot.”
For example, the student DEI committee helped Admissions revamp interview questions for the PhD program. Prospective students are now asked about their cultural competency, including gaps they might have in understanding people from cultures different than their own and how they navigate those situations in a professional setting.
In addition to her direct work with students, Chelby enjoys working with the Admissions team and within the tight knit PAU community. 
“My team is great! They’re a good group of people, all who want to do good work, all who want to push Admissions and PAU forward. And we are led by a superstar manager in Alaina. She’s really supportive in everything we do, and a great advocate for her staff.”
Alaina Dunn, Assistant Vice President of Admissions, said, “Chelby is a joy to work with, and more importantly, a delightful human being. She is intentional, equity-minded, and has a heart for student success. Her impact on our Office, and within the greater PAU community, has been tremendous.”
This environment inspired Tookey to get involved in PAU’s Staff Council in 2019, of which she became Chair in 2020. In that role, she’s convened staff meetings, advocated for staff needs at PAU, and met regularly with HR and the University’s President. Tookey’s operations background resurfaces when she describes a time when the Staff Council advocated for a more robust use of the current payroll system. Now staff have more access to tools in that system, such as requesting time off, approving timecards, etc. She also worked with the administration to offer a survey to staff, so their unique concerns would be heard after two years of pandemic adaptation. 
Amidst the adaptations and transitions, Tookey is still excited about her work with prospective students as well as her colleagues. “I appreciate that the Counseling program has a social justice focus. And their faculty create a very cool, fun, respectful environment in which to work. In the Psychology program, I mainly work with Dr. Eduardo Bunge. His passion for the program comes through in every single interview he does with prospective students. I know that because they all give me feedback about it! Students really like working with him.”
“PAU is a small institution, so everyone is accessible,” she said. “Students can reach out to faculty, to the president. Maureen [PAU’s President] is really accessible. My first week at PAU, she popped by and introduced herself. It’s that kind of place.”