From her time as a Bowdoin student to becoming an advocate for increased diversity in higher education, Staci Williams Seeley ’90 P’26 has embraced the liberal arts curriculum and explored the Common Good throughout her education and career.
Unsure of what career paths felt right to her, Seeley double-majored in psychology and history at Bowdoin, with a concentration in African American history. In the psychology department, Seeley found herself most interested in personality and social psychology. But upon graduation, her primary goal was to find a job that would support her financially.
“My initial focus was just on really getting a job that would help pay back my loans and allow me to live in a big city … I didn’t want to return to my hometown at the time,” Seeley said.
While it felt like the majority of her graduating class was taking jobs in Boston, Seeley looked to New York City to start her post-graduate life and took a job as a Management Associate at MetLife. However, her real passion was in education and community engagement, which was the work that she enjoyed at Bowdoin.
“I think I had a pretty clear understanding of the Common Good before it was being branded that way. We didn’t really start branding the Common Good until 1994, but I definitely knew of the Offer of the College … I felt really fortunate as a student who received a lot of generous financial aid, and I always wanted to kind of repay that debt to the College,” Seeley said.
During her time as a student, Seeley sought to give back to the College as a senior interviewer for the Admissions Office, an assistant conference coordinator for the Bowdoin College Summer Programs office, the president of the African American Society, a member of the Committee on Curriculum and Educational Policy and a student representative to the Governing Boards (now the Board of Trustees) Committee on Minority Affairs. She also worked in the President’s office and the Dean’s office and became a student assistant for the Africana Studies Program.
“I met many incredible people when I worked in all those offices.… All the people running those offices were women from Maine who were committed to working at the College … on behalf of students, and they helped me understand how that place worked better than some professors did,” Seeley said. “I felt very cared for by those women, who probably didn’t know many Black people before they came to work at Bowdoin, and just treated me like a member of their family.”
The familial connections that she fostered continued to shape her education even after graduation. Seeley’s family mainly worked in education, but she knew early on that she did not want to become a teacher. Two years after graduating from Bowdoin, she got a call from the Admissions Office that brought her back to campus and awakened her passion for equitable recruitment in higher education.
“That really was a turning point because I really started to understand inequity in school,” Seeley said. “I was tasked with recruiting students of color. But I don’t know that the resources were, at the time, really deployed appropriately to ensure that we had diversity in the class from a policy standpoint.”
Seeley noticed through her work in admissions that major reform was needed in Bowdoin’s application process and recruitment to bring more diversity to campus.
“Because of the way inequity was playing out in the process, we had fewer students to consider, and we were certainly over-enrolling students from privileged backgrounds with good records, for sure, but not outstanding records. And we were sometimes turning down students of color from under-resourced environments who were near the top of their class or at the top of their class,” Seeley said.
This experience prompted Seeley to dedicate her life’s work to shifting the paradigm away from the idea that students from under-resourced schools could not pursue higher education at elite institutions. After talking to colleagues in the education department at Bowdoin, she decided to pursue a masters degree at Brown University in secondary school teaching for history and social studies.
Reflecting on her undergraduate experience, Seeley did not ever think that she was the type of student who could pursue a graduate degree or that Bowdoin could help her launch her graduate studies.
“It wasn’t until my senior year when a Black woman, Professor Gail Pemberton, said to me ‘I wish you were going to graduate school. We need more people like you in graduate school,’” Seeley said. “No one said that to me, that I recall, in the psychology department, and no one said that to me in the history department.”
Today, Seeley works as a Managing Director of Storbeck Search, a Diversified Search Group company, which aims to promote increased diversity across new leadership in colleges, universities and independent schools. She also continues to give back to the College and advocates for students of color at Bowdoin through her role as the president of the Alumni Council and the chair of the host committee of the AF/AM/50—the 2019 celebration of fifty years of the African Studies program, the African American Society and the John B. Russwurm African American Center.
“That was a really important moment for the College to recognize the power, value and importance of the affinity of those who’ve worked on behalf of African American and Black students, and programs and departments that support knowledge of the diaspora and Black experience for over 50 years,” Seeley said. “I think there were over 600 registrants. It was one of the biggest weekends in school history outside of the reunion, and I’m just so proud of that. From that, the Black Alumni Association has developed and taken its wings”
Seeley encourages students to embrace their education at the College and utilize this time in their lives to be adventurous, even if they do not feel like they come from a background that would allow them to take advantage of certain opportunities.
“I tried never to be frustrated with Bowdoin for what it was not; I was always committed to what I knew it could be,” Seeley said.
Editor’s Note November 7, 2023 at 12:52 p.m.: An earlier version of this article wrongfully described the mission of Storbeck Search and was updated accordingly.