Louise Lonabocker has been “everywhere.” That’s her word, and it’s hardly an exaggeration.
She has travelled with other people and on her own—she’s happy either way. She has planned trips and tagged along. She has trekked both across the country and across the world. Add in some rhymes and her adventures could read as a Dr. Seuss story.
She has been to Southeast Asia, South America, and Central America. She has travelled through the Middle East, at a time when that was more feasible. She heads to the Berkshires every weekend over the summer, back to the area where she grew up. She recently returned from visiting relatives in Houston over Easter—another annual tradition.
“Now I go to kinda obscure places that other people often don’t want to go to, but it doesn’t stop me,” Lonabocker said.
Nothing really does. Not her packed schedule and responsibilities as the executive director of Student Services, an office that tackles everything from financial aid, to scheduling, to parking tickets. Certainly not her stature, where she still hasn’t quite reached 5 feet.
“Here’s this petite woman, doing all this travel—I’m actually in fear for some of her escapades,” laughed Billy Soo, vice provost for faculties. “But good for her. I’m truly happy and envious of what she does.”
Lonabocker is too humble to brag about all her adventures openly to her coworkers in Lyons Hall. But it’s no secret, and everyone asks anyway. She takes a big trip the same week or two every year after grades are in at Christmastime, and by now, everyone knows that it’s coming. According to Soo, they “just sort of hold [their] breath and wait for her to come back.”
“When people come see me, they’re like, ‘Oh, where are you going next?’” Lonabocker said, laughing. “So I always feel like I have to go someplace to uphold my reputation.”
It’s also not enough for her to go somewhere that might be expected.
“I can’t just say I’m going to Paris, that’s too easy,” she explained. “It has to be Dubai, or Rio, or Dijon … But I really like to immerse myself in one place, rather than hop around a lot.”
Out of all the places she has been, she has immersed herself most in Chestnut Hill, a place she first arrived at nearly 50 years ago—and one she’ll be sad to leave as she wraps up her tenure this month. She moved to Boston from Western Massachusetts, searching for a place to work. Knowing she wanted to start her career in a college setting, she set her sights on Boston University. But when she arrived, she couldn’t find the human resources office. So she hopped back on the T and rode it till the end of the line.
There, on the hilly campus of Boston College, it didn’t take her nearly as long to locate HR, or make an impression on those already there. Since she was seeking a secretary job, she was given a typing test—something that was more than in her wheelhouse.
“A lot of people will say something about, ‘Oh, you’ve been very successful.’ I’m just productive,” she said, laughing. “I can just do things faster sometimes than other people can.”
One of those things was rising through the ranks at BC. Those administering that initial typing test were so blown away, according to Bill Griffith, Lonabocker’s boss for a period in the 1970s, that they didn’t even record exactly how fast it was. (Lonabocker says she could average around 90 words per minute at the time.) A week after that interview, she started as a secretary in the admissions office. After a few years in different positions, she moved to the registrar’s office to work under the second-ever University-wide registrar, Bill Griffith.
“I liked her right off the bat,” he said. “She seemed like somebody who was really conscientious and liked BC. It wasn’t just the fact she could type really fast.”
Four years later, Griffith vacated his post to return to graduate school. At just 30 years old, Lonabocker became the University’s third registrar.
It was a natural fit for Lonabocker, who describes herself as a naturally organized person. That was especially necessary for the job at the time. Self-service registration was more than a decade away, and before 1982, students registered by running around to different departments and collecting punchcards.
Things have changed quite a bit since then. Largely thanks to Lonabocker, BC has been on the early brink of innovation in certain areas for much of the last couple decades. Besides serving as registrar during a couple-decade period where the entire process changed dramatically—from punch cards, to students lining up for computer registration in Gasson, to self-service by the early ’90s—she helped form Student Services into the mega-office it is today.
That form of Students Services, a hub in Lyons that provides most non-admission services a BC student needs, has only existed for the past 20 years. Prior to that, different services—for registration, for financial aid, for Eagle One cards—were scattered in different locations across campus. As part of Project Delta in the 1990s, these were all consolidated into one office.
It was a radical change at the time. Most universities would eventually do something similar, centralizing services to make them more efficient. But BC was one of the first, leading the pack with Fordham and Carnegie Mellon only a short ways ahead.
Early on, it caused more than a few headaches. Bringing a variety of services to one place may have made it easier for students to know where to go, but it created a substantial learning curve for employees who never previously had to handle the new variety of student queries. Where members of different offices could specialize in their department’s purpose before the consolidation, the people working there now needed to provide a general service. In other words, they needed to know everything.
“So they were learning, and teaching the other people at the same time what they knew, so it was a little chaotic at first,” Lonabocker said.
Not everyone was a fan of it. There was high turnover for a brief period from 1997 to 1999, Lonabocker said, as those who preferred to remain specialized relocated to different schools. But within two calendar cycles with Lonabocker at the helm as director, Student Services found its groove. And then she got to do what she enjoys most: tinkering with more changes to move ahead and make things better.
That’s not to say Lonabocker takes pleasure in change for the sake of change. If something works well, she’ll stick by it and defend it. She just isn’t satisfied with accepting the status quo and assuming things can’t be better.
“She always asks the question, ‘That’s the way we do it now, is that the way to do it in the future?’” Linda McCarthy said.
The technology director of Student & Academic Application Services has seen this process firsthand. McCarthy heads a team that supports UIS and course registration. As the former registrar, registration is still Lonabocker’s bread and butter. While UIS itself has not changed much, most other aspects of registration have undergone some degree of evolution. Course numeration, for example.
The original system of course numbers built into UIS included just two letters and three numbers, which had been more than enough at the time it was written. By the 2010s, some departments struggled to find numbers that had never been used before. So Lonabocker, with a committee, went and figured out standards for how other top institutions set up their system. When she had a plan in place—one that we applauded for making “course registration far easier”—she took strides to ensure a smooth transition.
“That was scary for people,” McCarthy said. “She went out and talked with people and explained what we were doing.”
Lonabocker’s sharp mind is always searching for these new ideas, new ways to make processes more efficient. Now that many of the things provided by Student Services have become so accessible online, her role has become more data-driven. Data are something else she has always been interested in—and probably part of the reason why she agreed to operate the scoreboard for men’s basketball games in the mid-’90s.
She’s also constantly looking for ways to get rid of paper, McCarthy says, and boost automation to give everyone a better experience. When she has success in finding something that works, she isn’t afraid to share it.
She has written and edited sections of multiple books on higher education, including Breakthrough Systems in Student Access and Registration: Student Access and Registration and Leadership Lessons: Vision and Values for a New Generation. It allowed her to pass on her knowledge, and tout BC’s innovative efforts. She became involved with committees and taskforces for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) early on in her career. She served on the board of directors, had a stint as president around 2000, and was editor-in-chief of College and University, the AACRAO’s quarterly journal, for over 10 years.
“I realized that by writing something about [a topic], you had to kind of dig in and learn more about it,” she said, laughing.
That’s another thing about Lonabocker—she’s always laughing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a casual interview in her corner office in Lyons, or a stressful meeting where everyone is dealing with a touchy issue.
“She’ll give this factoid, and she’ll laugh,” Soo said, himself laughing at the thought of it. “She has this expression that really puts everyone at ease, because you know she’s doing it with true sincerity and really true understanding of where you’re coming from.”
At the same, she has never been one to mess around. If ideas drifted away in a direction she believed wasn’t worthwhile, she would rein them in.
“If Louise thought something was illogical, she’d tell you,” Griffith said. “Which is what you want if you’re sitting down and planning something. She would not keep quiet if somebody was planning on doing something foolish.”
Lonabocker remains in consistent contact with McCarthy to keep planning for Student Services to take the most efficient route. McCarthy, meanwhile, is eager to reap as much knowledge from the longest-tenured BC administrator as possible before she leaves. Lonabocker announced in April that she plans to retire at the end of this semester.
“We’re really going to miss her. She’s one of the those personalities, people that have grown and built Boston College into what it is,” Soo said. “For those of us who have been very, very lucky to have worked with her, she’s going to be irreplaceable.”
Lonabocker still has plenty to do away from Lyons to keep herself busy. She is a regular volunteer in a souvenir shop at Tanglewood, a music venue in the Berkshires and the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She has worked with the Brookline Food Pantry, including doing some of the scheduling. She is a big film fan, according to Joseph Appleyard, the first vice president for University Mission and Ministry, who would go with her for movies and pizza.
And oh, the places she’ll go.
She has never visited Western Canada before, and she has already scouted out a couple areas in France that she hasn’t immersed herself in yet. Overall, she feels she has covered a good amount of ground.
“I’ve really been everywhere … except Australia, because that’s so far, and I always thought I would do that in retirement, but now I’m kind of done with the 15-hour flights,” she said—laughing, naturally.
She still remembers the first trip she ever went on. One of the staff members she worked for, way back around the time before she became the registrar, attended grad school at the University of Durham. So Lonabocker and two others crossed the pond to England to visit the staffer in February. It was freezing.
“They had no central heating,” she recalled. “But I loved it.”
It’s a bit ironic that her first trip came as a product of working at BC. As everything has moved around during her 46 years on campus, she has remained remarkably rooted. Besides a temporary stint on Newton during renovations, she has always worked out of Lyons or Gasson Hall, the latter only back when she worked for admissions.
She—and Boston College as a result—have come quite a ways since then.
Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor