This week I spoke on a panel as part of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) National Conference. The audience was high school counselors from all over the country and I was there to answer two primary questions: What made me pick Ohio State and how did Ohio State prepare me for my career?

There are 2 answers to how I choose Ohio State. The cute answer that I didn’t share with the panel stemmed from my first visit to campus when I was eight years old. My older cousin Todd was an OSU cheerleader and he lived with Brutus. I assumed all Ohio State students lived with or knew Brutus, and I decided that was reason #1 why I should go to OSU. Here we are together as proof:


My sister and me with Brutus circa 1988

Once my 8-year old self turned into a high school student, I was able to tour numerous small liberal arts colleges with my sister. I couldn’t see myself on any of those campuses. I submitted one application my senior year to Ohio State and was accepted early. The previous year, I wrote a letter to E. Gordon Gee, the then-president of Ohio State as part of an assignment for Mr. Jones’ English class (you can read more about Mr. Jones in my post The Dime). We were assigned to write a formal business letter to a famous person and request a reply. Most of my classmates picked WWF stars and country singers. I choose Gordon Gee and was the only person to get a reply.

President Gee invited me to call his office in advance of a campus visit and make an appointment to see him. I took him up on his offer the following October. My first stop on campus was for a meeting with Mabel Freeman, the former director of the OSU Honors and Scholars Program and now dear mentor and friend to my family. She looked at me curiously when I told her after the meeting with her I had to go to Bricker Hall and meet with President Gee. Then I pulled out my letter as proof. From that moment on, she didn’t doubt me. She also didn’t make me feel foolish or silly for what I did. I was a brave 17 year old who wasn’t afraid to engage adults in meaningful dialogue.

E Gordon Gee and me

E Gordon Gee and me

At the time I was applying to Ohio State, Gordon Gee had a saying that “You can’t make a small university big, but you can make a big university small”. That was the selling point for me. While going to Ohio State was going to provide me an opportunity to blend into the crowd for the first time in my life, I also knew that I could make it feel as small as Republic, Ohio if that’s what I wanted.


At the panel today, some of the participants asked about the size of the campus and how we managed to succeed. I told the story of how I met my dear friend Cindy. We were in a giant chemistry class together, but were also in the same chemistry recitation and a boxing class together during the same quarter. If we didn’t care about making Ohio State a smaller place, we would have ignored each other, but that’s not how we are wired. We got to know one another and formed a great friendship. Interactions and subsequent relationships like this are how Ohio State turned into the small university that Gordon Gee promised me was possible.

Small Town Leadership Lesson: We can make wherever we are feel as small or as big as we want. If we want to make things personal, then we have to step outside of our comfort zone, get involved and get to know those around us. If we want to live among strangers, then we can bury our head in our phone and ignore the world around us.

My mantra is to make wherever I am feel as small as Republic, Ohio. This perspective helped Ohio State and the subsequent organizations where I have worked and communities where I have lived feel like home.

How have you made new places feel like home?



Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.

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