UCLA's Ambassador of International Admissions


Photo by Rich Schmitt

In six decades at UCLA Gloria Nathanson, associate director of Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools, has become an authority on appraising the credentials of students across continents and cultures.

By Judy Lin for UCLA Today

WHEN GLORIA NATHANSON came to work in UCLA’s admissions office in 1949, the administration building — now Murphy Hall — where she worked had just been built.
Surrounded by acres of rolling hills and craggy arroyo, the campus was comprised of Royce Hall and its counterparts on the quad, along with Kerckhoff Hall and the men’s and women’s gyms.

But the campus was growing, and Nathanson — raised in a quiet L.A.neighborhood —couldn’t have imagined then what the future would hold for her at UCLA. World War II veterans were flocking to campus. A construction boom erupted to provide buildings to house health and life sciences, engineering, architecture, music and more.
The year before coming to work here, Nathanson had been a freshman music major — she was already quite an accomplished pianist. But her plans changed when she met and married fellow student Frank Nathanson, a Marine reservist home from the war. She left school to support him until he earned his chemistry degree — they couldn’t afford to pay the $29 per semester in student fees, plus living expenses.
Nathanson started in admissions as a junior clerk, filing student applications and transcripts. The requirement for admission, she recalled, was a “B” average or a standing in the top 10 percent of one’s high school class. Two staff members reviewed all the freshman applications and, she recalled, “we could admit everybody who met that requirement” — a far cry from the 150 readers now required each year to review 50,000 applications.
Nathanson rose in the ranks, becoming an evaluator of international student applicants. That job, which involves the intricacies of appraising the grading standards, test scores and other credentials across continents and cultures, would be the launching point for a career in which she is now a recognized authority. She has worked in the field for 40 years, except for several years when she left to start raising her four children and completing her B.A., graduating cum laude from UCLA in 1962.
Her job opened the door to new people and places. She has traveled around the globe to research the attributes of educational systems in other countries and to share that information with colleagues around the world — much of this done under the auspices of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, which encompasses some 9,000 admissions officers and registrars from almost every university and college in the U.S.
“We all need to know how each other’s educational systems operate,” said Nathanson, now associate director of Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools (UARS). “If a student gets a diploma from a high school in Paris, for example, what does that mean? Is that the equivalent of secondary school in the U.S.? There are different grading systems and different criteria.”
Nathanson has been invited by foreign governments to share her expertise. In 1990, for example, South Korea invited her to help its universities learn how American institutions use the SAT exam. More recently, she co-chaired a team that went to Russia to study its education system. In exchange, Russian counterparts came to the U.S.
“The people I’ve met and the travel I’ve done have been just wonderful,” said Nathanson. She has published in her field, helped create a comprehensive database of information on educational systems in 220 countries, led professional organizations and received numerous awards and honors for her work.
She has also dealt with the reverberations of 9/11 to international admissions, from changes to the immigration visa process to concerns that fewer international students would apply. At UCLA, where about 2,700 international students are now enrolled, this concern proved unfounded, Nathanson said. “We’re still a big priority for students from many countries.”
Nathanson has accomplished all of this and more despite the fact that in November, 1993, she left UCLA through the Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program (VERIP) offered by UC at that time. But her plans for a relaxing life of retirement with her husband were shattered when, while traveling in Japan with him later that month, he had a stroke and died. Six weeks after that, the Northridge earthquake hit, causing severe damage to Nathanson’s Northridge home.
“It was very difficult,” she recalled. “Retiring from a job, losing a spouse and then an earthquake — things were really topsy-turvy in my life.”
She was invited to return to UCLA part-time three months after her official retirement, and she has been here ever since, very involved in day-to-day operations. Every year she plays a key role on the resource team led by Admissions Director Vu Tran, to work with faculty and other campus representatives to refine the application process. She also oversees the office’s recruitment and admissions publications and website, and maintains active relationships with admissions and student officers in departments campuswide.
Throughout, Nathanson has served as a beloved mentor to colleagues, who plan to thank her by celebrating her 80th birthday on November 21 and naming a new conference room in UARS for her. In addition, coworkers, friends and family have contributed to the creation of the new Gloria Nathanson Endowed Admissions Fund in the UCLA Foundation, to support the program and services of UARS.
Sometimes, Nathanson said, she looks back on how her life has unfolded. “Mostly what occurs to me is that this has been a wonderful career. And an unexpected career that I never dreamed of.”
Will she ever really retire?
“Some people can’t wait to … sit down and do nothing,” she said. “Not me. I’d be bored. And certainly this, what I’m doing here, is very rewarding.”

Published: Thursday, October 08, 2009