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Running man: Tim Fields’ drive to serve families in the admission process
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Education is a family business.

That’s a point Tim Fields drives home in his book, “The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions: A Conversation about Education, Parenting and Race,” co-authored with Shereem Herndon-Brown, which was chosen as an NPR Book of the Day and listed in Forbes among its 2023 Top College Admission Resources. The book's second edition became available on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But education is also, quite literally, the Fields family business.

A native of Arlington, Texas, Fields is senior associate dean in Emory University’s Office of Undergraduate Admission. With the exception of a brother, his immediate family members are all educators.

Fields’ parents are retired, but his mother worked in college counseling with TRIO programs (the three original programs funded under Title IV of the Higher Education Act: Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search and Student Support Services). His father has a doctorate in higher education and worked for a time as vice president of Dallas College’s Mountain View Campus. Fields’ sister is a district lead teacher in special education in the city of Arlington school system. 

“As far back as I can remember, education has been part of my experience,” notes Fields. 

The educator’s learning journey 

Though he began his own college career at Morehouse College wanting to become a psychiatrist, it was in education classes that he found his purpose, specifically in a breakthrough he had tutoring a struggling third-grader. “The euphoria I felt in getting through to that young man convinced me this should be my life’s work,” Fields adds.

A passionate believer in the value of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), Fields says that “outside of my choice of spouse, going to Morehouse was the best decision I ever made.” He is sheepish, though, about the apprehension aroused in his educator parents when he submitted just that one application. As “Dean Fields,” he says, “I would not advise this approach to any students currently in the college education market.”

At Morehouse, Fields capitalized on the promise he had shown in track and field in high school. Under legendary coach Willie Hill, Fields was an accomplished athlete, winning the conference championship in cross country three out of his four years there.

While earning a master’s in higher education from University of Massachusetts Amherst, Fields experienced some of the same joys that had animated his mother’s counseling career. There, Fields worked with a TRIO program and found that “helping students access support in college was a sweet spot for me.”

Fond of Atlanta, Fields returned after graduating, working for a time in student services at Atlanta Metropolitan College. His start at Emory took advantage of that expertise; he was hired by the Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE) as acting director of the Learning Program to spearhead what was known as EPASS, now Academic Success Programs, which comprise academic coaching, learning assistance and peer tutoring. 

One of Fields’ first colleagues was Shari Obrentz, associate dean of the OUE. The two started within weeks of one another and faced two big tasks: to build supplemental learning programs and implement a new technology that made signing up for tutoring easier than the sign-up sheets they had inherited.

“Tim quickly became my closest work partner and friend,” says Obrentz. 

In 2007, Fields became an assistant dean in the admission office. Beyond recruitment and review of prospective students, Fields also has helped lead efforts that have made Emory one of the nation’s most diverse colleges and universities.

‘Leading from the heart’

By stepping into the admission role, all that Fields had been building toward clicked into place. 

“I tell people that I have not worked a day since then because I get the pleasure of traveling around the country talking about an amazing institution, about access, about promoting all the amazing opportunities at Emory,” Field attests.

Nothing about his upward trajectory surprises Obrentz. “When he continued to the admission office, I knew he would thrive given his passion and talent for talking to new students and their families about the college experience. I now oversee orientation, so my team welcomes the impressive students Tim recruits to the Emory community,” she says. 

As the university’s recruitment success has grown — this year, Emory may receive upward of 35,000 applications — the culture has remained the same. 

“Year over year, Emory clearly demonstrates its desire to reach diverse populations, attract the best and brightest students, and provide more than an education. We provide a way for these students to make an impact,” Fields comments. 

“The constancy of these values makes my work easy,” he continues. “I am able to have genuine conversations with interested students and parents. Emory is not perfect, but it is a great place — a place where students can come and grow.”

Says Scott Allen, vice dean of admission, “Tim leads from the heart, empowering the college admission process with empathy and a belief in the potential of all students. We all are far better in our work because we have Tim’s voice and spirit leading us forward as we serve future students.”

Fields’ current territory is Illinois and Washington, D.C. In his time at Emory, he has covered Philadelphia and his home state of Texas as well as Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, northern Virginia and Wisconsin. 

When not on the road, Fields coordinates the admission office’s key visitation programs for admitted students:

While vigorously advocating for all that Emory offers, Fields is grateful that “my job is not to convince someone to come here but rather to lay out the kinds of experiences that students can have here. That way, they make an informed decision,” he says. 

Mentoring that goes beyond creating a class

Even students ultimately choosing to go elsewhere make it plain, in calls and thank-you notes, how much their exchanges with Fields mattered. It is not uncommon for him to maintain connections to students throughout their Emory years — and beyond. 

Students he has mentored have gone on to win awards such as the Bobby Jones Scholarship, Fulbright and other high honors for academic achievement. It is a point of pride for Fields to be what he terms “a small part” of Emory students’ continuing success.

Chelsea Jackson 18C, selected as a Truman Scholar in 2017 and a Rhodes Scholar in 2018, is living in Oxford, England, where she founded Equity Architects, helping business leaders align with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. Fields remains in touch with Jackson, cheering her on. 

Angel Pérez, chief executive officer of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, calls Fields “one of the leading voices in our profession, an inspiration to his peers. Through his book, speaking engagements and recruitment initiatives, Tim provides much-needed counsel and comfort to students and families as they navigate an increasingly complex process.”

Penning an admission guide to Black families

During the pandemic in 2020 and as the nation was in the midst of a racial reckoning, Fields and Herndon-Brown believed the time was right to offer Black families, educators and allies guidance in what became “The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions.”

The idea behind the book was “to narrow the information gap. We wanted to touch on how much things have changed and be a resource for students at schools where it isn’t always easy to get all that you need from your counselor,” says Fields.

It found a grateful audience almost immediately, so much so that Johns Hopkins University Press agreed to release a second edition sooner than normal, recognizing that Fields and Herndon-Brown had proven themselves trusted voices in the marketplace.

The co-authors came together by breaching an important divide: Fields emerged out of the public school system in Arlington, while Herndon-Brown was a private school student from Brooklyn.

Even now, says Herndon-Brown, “we have distinct and sometimes contradictory opinions about education and college admissions. And that’s okay. We have learned to trust each other’s heart and intentions.”

The second edition covers ways to prioritize students’ and parents’ mental health, reckon with the influence of artificial intelligence on college essay writing, navigate the admission process as a transfer applicant and understand recent Supreme Court decisions about race-conscious admission and the likely impact on Black applicants. 

For Gina Parker Collins and Sam Osborne, who co-host “Articulating: An Independent School Podcast,” “This book is not simply a reference guide. It’s an act of love. Fields and Herndon-Brown are the caring, committed college counselors every Black child deserves when pursuing higher education.” 

No stopping him now

Fields enjoys spending time with his wife of 18 years, Britney, who worked at Emory for eight years in what was then the Career Center, now the Pathways Center, along with their 11-year-old twins Alexander and Carter.

He currently runs three to four times a week, but not the long distances of his youth. In fact, he says that his twins are amused at any stories of his past exploits.

But make no mistake: Fields remains a running man, constantly pushing himself to do and be more. When he and his “foodie” family are not enjoying each other, Fields gives time to groups such as the federal TRIO programs, Chicago ScholarsNational Merit Scholarship CorporationQuestBridgeTurning Dreams into Realities and United Negro College Fund. Closer to home, he is involved with local churches. 

“My gift is connecting people and sharing information about going to college. I will lend my time to any organization with a focus on higher education. These things fuel me and allow me to give back,” Fields observes. “I am grateful that Emory has supported me in having this bigger conversation.” 

Herndon-Brown is happy to have the last word about his co-author, now friend.

“What Tim has given to Emory, the profession overall and our book needs to be applauded. Not because Tim seeks that — he doesn’t — but because he’s earned it.”

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