Fretwell retired this summer after 30 years in admission at Amherst.
What did you study at Amherst?
I was a double major in English and theater, then called dramatic arts, and was involved in eight or nine shows, onstage and backstage. I was also a course or two short of a geology major. But in my college application, I indicated I wanted to be an architect. I had no experience whatsoever as an architect.
What’s been the biggest highlight of your tenure here?
No doubt, Amherst being named as recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence in 2016. I am proud of the recognition Amherst received for its commitment to identifying, attracting, enrolling and supporting talented low-income students. We are a stronger institution for this work, and the prize put a spotlight on Amherst’s ambition and success.
What are some highlights and lowlights in recruiting?
I’ll start with highlights: GPS! When I started in admission, you were using a map and the hand-scrawled notes from last year’s traveler on how to get from one high school to another. Inevitably, you would get lost and have to find a pay phone. You’d have to have the right change and say, “I’m going to be running a little late.” And, oh, the adventures of luggage getting lost, going into a school and realizing my shoes didn’t match. Or getting halfway through a presentation and realizing the people in the room think I’m representing UMass.
What’s next for you?
I want to take taiko drumming classes, paint watercolors. I also plan to continue my volunteer work on a number of scholarship committees and, having lost both of my parents over the last several years, hope to become trained in providing hospice care support.
What will be your legacy here?
Well, that remains to be seen. Because those students where I played a role in their admission to Amherst over the last 30 years? Their work is not done in the world. I hope they do tremendous things with their Amherst education and their lives. And I will be following them.
This is an excerpt of an interview with Katharine Fretwell. Read the full interview.