Name: Carolyn Coley Koning
Years as a Camper: 1980 CILT (my only year as a camper, and I was a CILT—I'm not sure why I was allowed to do that)
Years as a Staff Member/Positions held: 6 years—Junior and Senior Cabin Counselor on Sailing staff (1981-1985).
Years as a Professional Staff Member/Positions held: 4 years—Sailing UA (1986) and Head Counselor of Camp IV (1987-1989).
Current Profession and Title/Years in role: Assistant Director for Disability Services at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. I've been at Meredith for four years (since 2017), but I was on staff at Meredith previously for five and a half years in a different role.
Can you provide a brief overview of your job responsibilities? I facilitate accommodations for students with disabilities to create equal access to all aspects of Meredith College. I also coach and advise students with disabilities and consult with faculty and staff.
Can you tell us how your work in higher education has been impacted and/or influenced by the skills learned at Camp? So much of who I am and what I value can be attributed to my time at Camp. I learned that every interaction is an opportunity to encourage, teach, build up, and empower others. At Camp, I learned to communicate effectively and how to have difficult conversations. One of the most important skills I developed at Seafarer was how to receive constructive feedback. No one wants to hear that they're doing something wrong, but to grow personally and professionally we have to be open to instruction and guidance from others. At Camp, I realized that I was still valued and important even if my job performance needed correction or development. As a supervisor, it's important to affirm the individual as a person and as a member of the team even if elements of their work can be improved.
I'm so thankful that I've ended up at Meredith College. Many aspects of Meredith are some of the same things I love about Camp. At Seafarer, campers have opportunities to develop previously unimagined skills and to have adventures they didn't know they would love. An all-female college provides students with a similar environment that promotes leadership and confidence. Like Seafarer, Meredith has rich traditions that strengthen community connections and build life-long relationships.
What do you enjoy best about serving as an advocate for young women? I love seeing students mature and thrive during their years in college. As freshmen, some may ask that I communicate with faculty on their behalf regarding accommodations or challenges they're experiencing. As juniors and seniors, they learn to advocate for themselves. They communicate openly and effectively with professors and others. I love seeing students recognize their worth, appreciating their own extraordinary strengths, knowledge, talents, and abilities. People with disabilities have unique experiences and perspectives that businesses, industry, government, educational institutions, non-profits, the arts, and our culture desperately need. To change our world for the better, all students must have the opportunity to learn and grow in their areas of interest. It's a joy and an honor to work with so many remarkable students and to see them realize their potential.
Is there a person or a situation that had a significant influence on you while you were at Camp? How and why did they/it impact you? Many at Camp have had a significant impact on me. Since her passing in 2018, I get emotional when I remember Judy Bright. Judy—her personality, presence, leadership, and example—impacted me far beyond what I realized at the time. Many revere Judy as a force of nature, a confident, capable helmsman. While she was truly a great person, bigger than life, she sincerely cared about each of us. When I was a senior counselor, before I was a UA or head counselor, she met me at the Marina as my cabin returned from Long Cruise. She invited me to join her on her golf cart so she could personally tell me that my grandfather had passed away. While she effortlessly motivated and inspired us within the grand Camp context, she was authentic and empathetic on a personal level. She could tell me hard truths without crushing my spirit because I knew she genuinely cared about me as a person. Judy practiced what she preached. She was forgiving and encouraging. She had high expectations for all of us, and she modeled kindness, generosity, a positive attitude, enthusiasm, honesty, and hard work.
Is there a goal toward which you are currently working? Learning everything I can about diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. I recognize how little I know about racism, the trauma people of color experience, and my role in perpetuating racist systems through my inaction and silence. I'm learning to listen more and talk less. I'm learning that good intentions are insufficient. In fact, unlearning many things is an integral part of the process. Humility is imperative as I allow my assumptions to be challenged and my way of viewing the world to be transformed.
Favorite mess hall entry song: Walking on Sunshine by Katrina & The Waves
Favorite skit memories: The Saturday morning sea UA Top Gun skit of 1986. Ann Tyrey Payne, Kimberlee Hancock Harvey, Frannye Fowle, and I were cast as what is officially known as aircraft marshallers. All we did was stand in the aisles of the Dining Hall and direct imaginary planes. It doesn't sound like much because it wasn't much, but even today, the memory makes me laugh.
The devotion you best remember from Camp: The toothpaste devotion. I still use this metaphor with children and college students.
What three words best describe you: Positivity. I hope the other two are Kind and Approachable.
What profession other than your own would you like to try? Actress. I'd be an awesome actress. I've also thought about turning that vacant building across the road from Sea Gull into a coffee shop/bakery/arcade/used bookshop and calling it The Fire Ball Factory.