Emails, Road Trips, and Weddings: An Interview with Paul Turenne, Associate Registrar

Paul Turenne himself!

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It’s October, which means that you’ve settled into classes, Fall Break is only weeks away, and it’s probably the only month of the semester that you won’t receive emails from PTURENNE.

Email from PTURENNE usually include words such as “pre-registration,” “drop/add,” and “adjustment period,” and come in spurts over the course of a week or two. When you see PTURENNE in your inbox, it typically means that it’s about time that you start planning for the next semester. When you hear about PTURENNE sightings and do not in fact see the emails yourself, it means that you are graduating and will soon have to grapple with the mythical place known as “the real world” (or, alternatively, the fall-back plan known as “Brooklyn”).

Believe it or not, PTURENNE is actually a real person. His name is Paul Turenne, and he is an Associate Registrar at Wesleyan. I interviewed Paul about his job, being a mysterious automated email presence, and what he does when he’s not on campus. 

What are your duties as Associate Registrar?

I manage the academic electronic portfolios. More specifically, I manage processes like course registration, major declaration, grade entry, and some technical stuff with teaching evaluations. I started in this position in August 2007.

How did you end up as a registrar – and how did you end up at Wesleyan in general?

Well, I studied undergrad at American University in Washington D.C. and majored in political science. While at school, I was a desk receptionist in my residence hall and a Resident Advisor (RA).  After college, I worked at the National Young Leaders Conference for a little while until I decided to return to Connecticut to be near my family and friends; I grew up in Plainfield, CT. Because I had been an RA, I decided to go into residence life. So I started as a Resident Director at Mitchell College in New London, CT, and then switched to a similar position at Post University in Waterbury, CT.

I knew I wanted to stay in higher education, but I also wanted to move off campus and not have to respond to emergencies at 3:00 AM.  While I was at Post, a position in the registrar’s office opened up. I figured that it would be a good fit because I was more into the logistical aspects of my residential life job than anything else. Ultimately, they were desperate for a person to fill the spot and I was desperate to move off campus, so it worked really well for both of the University and me.

A couple of months in, I saw a posting for a registrar position at Wesleyan and applied. I didn’t think I would get it; the posting said they preferred candidates with a Master’s degree, and they wanted a lot of experience. While I had experience in higher education, I had comparatively little experience as a registrar. To my surprise, they hired me! I’ve been here ever since.

Why did you choose to work in higher education?

I like higher education because, while I could do the sorts of jobs I do now at any insurance company or business, I’d feel that, by working at a college, we serve a higher purpose and that provide a service that really does help people. I’m not the one in the classroom teaching and spreading knowledge, and I’m not in Student Affairs helping you learn more about yourself, and I’m not protecting your safety or anything; but I help support the people who teach, run the university, and directly support all of you.

I also like the opportunities that I get to go to speaker series and stuff. For example, I saw Justice Scalia and Geoffrey Canada when they were here, and I got the chance to see Jason Reitman speak at Up in the Air when it played on the film series. I like being able to attend these sorts of things in the academic community.

What mental image do you think students have of you?

Probably fairly robotic! I must sit in some cold, windowless office underground ground constantly badgering people by email.  A couple times, I’ve served food at the Thanksgiving dinner at Usdan and I’ll get double takes. One student asked, “Dude, how do you send emails at 3 in the morning – and all the time?”  I explained that it’s a batch process that sends emails overnight and he said, “Oh yeah, I guess that makes sense.” This definitely happened when I spoke at info sessions about study abroad, and for the Summer Experience Grant (SEG); some people said, “So… Are you the same Paul Turenne?” and I said, “Yes, same guy.”  But, I do send a lot of emails, admittedly.

What interactions do you have with students?

Generally, the majority of my interactions with students are through email and phone.  But luckily, I do a training with the peer advisors, orientation interns, I get to work with both groups over the summer directly, I meet with students who are going abroad to talk about pre-reg, I have foot traffic in the office… but generally it’s pretty electronic.  Except las semester, I worked in the Summer Experience Grant Program, where I got to meet a lot of students.

How did you end up doing the Summer Experience Grant stuff?

I’m currently a graduate student at CCSU getting my masters in Counseling with a specialization in student development and higher education.  Last semester, as part of my coursework, I had to do a 100-hour practicum of work at a college/university outside of my current job working on different projects with different skillsets and whatnot.  I knew Persphone Hall in the Career Center because when she was in Human Resources, I was the last person she hired before she moved to the CC.  She told me about the SEG program and I worked on the website, communications, added things to the Portfolio, I recruited a faculty review committee and they were awesome.  I managed the info sessions, office hours, and managed the whole process.  I wasn’t a voting member, but I’m glad I didn’t have to because it would have been hard to decide between everybody since they were overwhelmingly passionate, interesting, etc.  Also, I had taken a career counseling course a couple years ago which was easily the best class I took at Central.

Ironically, my wife works for Persephone’s husband as the Assistant Director of Admissions at Central; Larry is the director.

Did you think working in the Career Center was useful? 

I went into it with some resistance since I had 8 years of higher-ed experience and I work full time, but I’m very appreciative in the end that CCSU didn’t make an exception for me.  Persephone is the only person I knew in the WCC and I got to meet them (they’re a fantastic team), and I got to work with people in UR, the Patricelli Center, people I would never have worked with otherwise.  It also rekindled my passion for working with students.  I think after three years of residential life, you’re willing to move away from teaching experience and become more of a bureaucrat.  I think sometimes, what you read on the news, Wesleying, the Argus, you see a lot of negative news that generalizes the student population.  But when I meet with students individually, I am impressed by how hardworking and passionate you all are, and how successful you will be.  And now, working, it gives me more skills and makes me feel even more a part of the Wes community, since I’m generally confined to North College, ITS, GLSP, and graduate studies, and this allowed me to expand more.  It ends up coming down to the people who are there, and if you end up building a support system, it makes coming to work every day very easy and very fulfilling.

This was similar to being in college: AU [AMERICAN UNIVERSITY] was where I wanted to go, I applied Early Decision. I paid a ton of money, college wasn’t always wonderful in terms of the school, but in terms of the people, I’m still close with a lot of my friends and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Did you enjoy working at the Career Center?

I really did. I will once again be an intern in the Career Center in the spring, managing the Summer Experience Grant. Reading about the experiences that students on the Summer Experience Grant had, and how formative they were, was uplifting for me. Our team put a bunch of work in, and our students – and the communities they worked with – were ultimately the ones who benefited. I’m happy and proud when the scheduling system works, but it’s so much more rewarding and personal when students have the ability to do something they thought they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

What sort of things did you do over the summer?

Every summer, I go on sports road trips with my friends; I go on a baseball road trip with my college buddies, and a football road trip with my high school friends. Usually, I go on a baseball road trip with my dad, but I didn’t do that this past summer; my family went on a cruise instead. 

How were your road trips?

They were awesome. My college friends and I did our 8th baseball road trip and went to Scottsdale, Arizona. It went so well that we talked about having it in Scottsdale every year. With my HS friends, we did the 7th annual football road trip, and went to Cleveland.

Why did you decide to go to Scottsdale?

Well, first we pick a week when we can all go—we tend to go either Thursday or Friday until Sunday—and then we choose a city where the baseball team is terrible and go there. This year, we chose the Arizona Diamondbacks because they were at home that weekend and didn’t have a good record. There was talk about going to Detroit or Chicago, but we compromised on Scottsdale. It takes U.N. style negotiations to get 12 guys to decide where to go.

How long was the cruise and where’d you go?

It was one week out of New York. We spent one day in Cape Canaveral Florida, two days in the Bahamas, and then returned to New York. It was a gift for my cousin, who just graduated high school.

I hear you’re a Justice of the Peace.

I became a JP in January, and so far I’ve officiated eight weddings, and I’ve got two more coming up.

How’d you get into that?

A couple years ago, a high school friend of mine asked me to officiate his marriage – but then, before I did, they jumped a plane to Vegas and eloped.  Then another high school friend of mine asked me to officiate for him and his boyfriend, so I got certified.  The wedding went well and I enjoyed doing it, so I decided, “Hey, why don’t I do this officially?”

Now I work with the town committee as a Justice of the Peace (JP).  It’s a four-year term, and I hope to keep doing it.  I’m a Middletown JP, but I can officiate anywhere in CT; I’m one of 35 Democratic JPs from Middletown.

How were the weddings that you’ve done?

I think they all went really well. The first two I did were with friends, and the third one was for a friend of a friend. I did four over the course of the summer, and the couples were very happy about how things went; they had great ideas about how things wanted to go and we made nice ceremonies. One was in the Memorial Chapel for two Wesleyan alums, so that was really special.

What sort of things do you do when you officiate a wedding?

In some ways, weddings are pretty standard; everyone walks in, they have a reading, say vows, give the ring, kiss, and walk out.  It seems so standard, but people do really interesting things with it. Especially people my age and younger. People want to find something between a 2-minute in front of a judge in the town hall and “at their hometown church.” They want a church wedding in a non-religious way. That’s what my wife and I had, and if other people want that too, hopefully it’ll work out.

Anyway, there are definitely variations in how the weddings are performed. For example, some couples like to really involve other people—have family and friends do readings, for example. Others just don’t. Some want more religious readings and religious tones, others want it to be more of a civil ceremony. Some couples will write their own vows, whereas others want me to write the vows or use the standard vows.

Officiating a wedding is kind of like my current job.  You’re not the center of attention; it’s to help other people achieve their goals.  My goal is to be invisible and not stress them out, be the one person they don’t have to worry about. 

Anything else you would like to add?

I really love working at Wesleyan, my wife and I bought a condo in Middletown because I plan to be here for a long time.  I have an exceptional boss (Anna van der Burg). We have a fantastic team inside and outside the office.  I don’t know how long I will be in this position, but I hope I’ll have a long future at Wesleyan. I really hope to be here for a long time. It’s funny, because it’s about six years that I’ve had this job. I kind of think of you guys; you finish four years, look back and it’s a blur but took a while doing it, and you’ve moved on a lot. Six years ago, I was living in a room in my buddy’s condo, I had a girlfriend I was dating, and now I’m married, I’ve got additional responsibilities. Looking back on it, I’m really pleased by the growth and improvement that I’ve been able to accomplish with the tremendous support of everyone on my team. It’s sort of like commencement. I look back and say, “Look how young I was!” Now I feel like I’m really an adult.

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