Thomas Rock (Ed.D., '02): Welcoming You, On Behalf of Teachers College
Published in TC Community
In 2006, when Tom Rock appeared on the CBS reality show The Amazing Race, a co-worker at Teachers College predicted he would be a smash success.
“Tom’s energy will keep the show interesting,” she said.
Rock, who is a serious marathoner, and his partner, Terry Cosentino, did not win the million-dollar prize, though they made it all the way from Seattle to Beijing, Mongolia and Southeast Asia, before being eliminated in Vietnam. Still, his colleague’s assessment continues to apply, particularly to Rock’s impact at TC, where he is Executive Director of Enrollment Services. Over the past five years, applications to the College have increased by 26 percent, with each entering class setting a new record as both the largest and most selective in TC’s postwar history. At the same time, the mix of students has grown more diverse, with a growing number coming from states that are not on the Eastern seaboard, as well from other countries – particularly China.
That success owes in no small part to Rock and his team, who typically function as the first point of contact not only for applicants, but also for those simply thinking about applying. Rock himself spends weeks on the road, and has traveled to Asia on several occasions – including as part of the China Mobile Conference in 2010, held in Beijing and Shanghai, which was supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Rock was one of 18 representatives from 14 U.S. universities, colleges and community colleges who met with Chinese government officials and educators at Chinese universities to publicize educational opportunities in the United States and answer questions about the American system.
Rock, who is also an adjunct faculty member in TC’s Higher Education program, is a frequent go-to source of commentary for reporters covering emerging trends in graduate and undergraduate admissions – particularly in recent years, as a more career changers have returned to school to pursue jobs in teaching and other service fields. He has also served as President of the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals.
Rock grew up in a family of educators in upstate New York. He credits his parents, who are both retired school administrators, for instilling him and his siblings with a strong work ethic. He came to TC as a student in 1996, received his Ed.D. in 2002 and became the College’s Director of Admission in 2003, a role he approaches with seemingly dauntless enthusiasm,.
“I have the best job at the College,” he says. “I get to interact with students and colleagues who are changing the world through education. Many of our students will become the next generation of leaders in the field.” He adds that there’s no place he’d rather be doing this work than at TC. "We work so hard in all of our enrollment service offices to help students determine if TC is the right fit. Clearly it is for me.”
But perhaps the qualities that most make Rock an effective ambassador for the College are his informal and approachable style, and a dry sense of humor that crops up in sometimes unexpected situations – as, for example, at TC’s Academic Festival last spring, when Rock moderated a panel discussion on how technology has affected the college admissions process. He had brought together five very prominent admissions officers – all TC alums – including Joe Bertolino (Ed. D., ’03), former Vice President of Enrollment Management for CUNY and newly named President of Linden State College in Vermont, and Jennifer Fondiller (MA ’89), Dean of Enrollment Management at Barnard College – and was now getting the proceedings underway for a room packed with expectant listeners.
“Earlier this morning, we heard Jeffrey Sachs, head of Columbia’s Earth Institute had spoken about the five Ds of technology,” he said, and raised a hand to tick off the list. He paused to glance at teen-aged boy sitting in the front row next to his mother. “Now, that’s not five Ds on your transcript,” he said, wagging a finger as the room broke up in laughter. “That would definitely not be good.”