A Tribute to Assistant Dean of Admissions Bill Howard

Newly retired Assistant Dean Bill Howard at a reception honoring his 39 years at BCSSW.

This summer, Assistant Dean of Admissions Bill Howard retired, stepping down after 39 years of service to the School of Social Work. His approach to admissions was uniquely personal; lore has it that not only did he read every single application to the School since he became Director of Admissions in 1989, but that he remembers, to this day, something about nearly every student that was accepted. Associate Dean & MSW Program Director Tom Walsh delivered a moving tribute to Bill at his retirement reception. We invite you to enjoy his sentiments below. 

Tom Walsh:

How long has Bill been here?

Well, the School was founded in 1936 and as far as we know there have only been three Directors of Admission – Dorothy Book who started the School with Fr. McGuinn, Ruth Fallon, and Bill Howard.

Bill began teaching at the School in 1980, and he became the Director of Admissions in 1989 – for a grand total of 37 years of service. If you include the two years that he spent getting his MSW here in Community Organizing and Social Planning in 1976, then we get to 39 years at Boston College School of Social Work.

A Director’s Director

Before joining us, Bill was the Director of Occupational Program Consultation for the Dept. of Public Health’s Division of Alcoholism; then, the Director of the Employee Assistance Dept. of Family Services of Greater Boston; then, the Director of Marketing & External Operations for Beech Hill Hospital in NH.

So he is actually a lot older than he looks, and he’s also never had a job where he’s not been the director!

Building a Top Ten School, Person by Person

When Bill started at Boston College School of Social Work, the School admitted about 80 full-time students per year and 20 part-time. This year, we are expecting over 210 full-time students and 40 part-time to matriculate in the fall. He’s been responsible for admitting thousands of students to the school over the years.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Bill’s admissions experience is that he has personally read every single application that has come to the school since 1989. Talk about really knowing your student body, and what it means to be a part of the Boston College School of Social Work – in fact, he remembers something about nearly all of the students that he has admitted – and some that he has not admitted.

He can recount something about an applicant’s personal essay years after he read it.

Knowing Bill, I think he pulls this off because when he reads an application, he reads it from the point of view of a social worker who is genuinely interested in another person’s life and their yearning to be part of a helping profession.

Bill’s job requires the wisdom of a seasoned practitioner who can read between the lines and determine which applicants’ life stories have made them stronger and capable of becoming a professional social worker.

And while his time at Boston College will forever be remembered by the personal touch he brought to his work, his successes by the numbers, too, are many:

  • He has met or exceeded every admissions target on an annual basis since 1989.
  • He has more than doubled the diversity of the incoming classes within the past 10 years.
  • He has advocated for and overseen financial aid, which has quadruped within the past 15 years.

The Quiet Leader

Because Bill goes about his business in such a quiet and reserved manner, it has been easy to take for granted that his steady presence and diligent work ethic has assured us that we have a strong School, and that we all have our jobs.

Bill pulled this off by working very hard on behalf of all of us.

He has attended more grad fairs, conferences, and information sessions than any of us can imagine. For awhile I attended some of those recruitment fairs when we had our program in Maine. I can tell you, the first time you go to visit various college campuses, it’s new and exciting; the second time less so; and the third time – not so much. But this is exactly what Bill has been doing non-stop for the School for the past 28 years.

He has spent more Saturdays and evenings at the School than all of us combined – organizing and conducting the Admissions Information Sessions for prospective students. It must get old, but every time I ever saw Bill conduct one of these sessions, it was with the same energy, enthusiasm for the school, patience in answering routine questions for the umpteenth time, and always, always rooted in individual side-bar conversations with prospective students (often accompanied by parents or partners) long after the Information Session ended.

So, I think you get the picture. Bill has worked quietly behind the scenes for years and years to represent the School in the best possible way – and we are indebted to him for all that he has done to bring a constant stream of bright, insightful, hard-working students that we have the pleasure of getting to know and to teach.

Associate Dean & MSW Program Director Tom Walsh delivering his tribute.

The Popular Professor

I should mention that Bill was also a very popular teacher at the School. He taught Social Work in Industry, and for several years he was one of our most sought-after instructors for the Social Welfare System course and the Social Policy Analysis course. He had a knack for convincing Clinical students about the importance of social policy and it’s impact on clinical services.

He taught and did all of this traveling, while simultaneously running admissions.

Bill has also remained as a Faculty Advisor for Macro students – and we are hoping that he will continue to advise students for us in the future.

What Down Time?

So now, as Bill transitions to the next chapter, some of you may be wondering what he is going to do with all of this down time.

Well first, Bill never has down time.

For one thing, he is a voracious reader. For years he would discuss novels and trade books with Mary Hogan (Mary was assistant to the dean for 42 years); and now this obsession for books and getting free copies of books has transferred to Associate Dean of Finance, Research, and Administration Sveta Emery – so I suspect that between the library and Sveta, he will keep quite busy with his reading.

Most of you probably know that he has taken up this insane hobby of running 100-mile marathons – which have him travelling all over the country to run non-stop for over 24 hours. Before that, he was into kayaking (or paddling, whatever he calls it), but that too was insane – he’d be on the Charles River at 5:00 AM paddling before work, watching the sunrise, or paddling in the rain and practicing these recovery maneuvers in which you purposely flip the kayak upside down with yourself in it.

But, I can tell you, that to hear about Bill’s exploits in the water or running the alpine trails thru the United States is like pulling teeth – because he doesn’t talk much about himself. With One Exception.

The Pride of a Grandfather

And those of you who have been in his office can attest to this.

Bill’s office, by the way, hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years – he used to have it decorated with a braided rug that I think was his grandmother’s, Ruth Fallon’s old BC Chair, which is about a hundred years old, and some oil painting of water lilies that he got from the Book Room after some renovation – and then the newest addition – and the only one that Bill Howard will initiate a conversation about – pictures of his two grandchildren – Ila and Will.

So, if you want to strike up a conversation with Bill, just ask him about Ila or Will.

An Eagle Through and Through

I know that Bill is going to miss BC.

He met his wife, Myda at BC. Their daughters, Sara and Becca, went to BC, and Bill’s had season tickets to hockey and football forever – so it’s all been a big part of his life that I know he will miss.

But I think we at BC are going to miss Bill more than he’s going to miss us.

I will personally miss Bill very much. When I first started and didn’t really know anyone, it was Bill who invited me to lunch, showed me the ropes, was extremely patient when I was recommending rejecting more admission applicants than admitting them – which I’ve come to understand is not good for the longevity of a school; and when I was given assignments by the Dean’s office to make long distance phone calls for field placements, it was Bill who punched in his PIN for me – and after a few times, he just wrote it down and gave it to me.

So, we’ve all been there, starting a new job and relying on others to help, and for me Bill was the person that threw me that lifeline whenever I needed one.

We’ve just been very, very lucky to have such a consistent gatekeeper at this School,whose values and character have exemplified the very best that a School of Social Work in a Jesuit Catholic University can offer. Whoever ends up in Admissions has big shoes to fill.

So, thank you Bill – for everything you have done for the School, for so long, and for so well.

3 thoughts on “A Tribute to Assistant Dean of Admissions Bill Howard

  1. I wish I’d known Bill was leaving so I could have said goodbye. Such a kind, warm man to welcome me to the BCSSW community. Best wishes!


  2. Bill is the very first person I met in BC before I applying to MSW. Bill gave me wonderful tour and introduction to BC social work program when I visited BC from Taiwan. I’m class of 2015 MSW. Thank you Bill for everything.


  3. Thank you Dr. Howard for understanding why a 55 year old car salesman wanted to change the lives of others by changing his own first. I will be forever grateful. I hope to see you at the rink this Hockey season.
    Kevin McCarthy NEW, LCSW


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s