Some call him a national treasure; others say he’s a rock star and a legend. Most call him Shep.
For nearly half a century, F. Shepperd Shanley has been introducing Northwestern to prospective students around the globe. And honestly, he says, in 49 years the job hasn’t changed much. It’s still all about making connections — and by all accounts, that’s what Shanley does best.
“Everybody is an instant friend,” says Chris Watson, Northwestern’s dean of undergraduate enrollment.
Shanley’s colleagues and friends describe him in glowing terms: thoughtful, loyal, charming and whip smart, animated, intellectually curious and always upbeat. “It’s almost infectious, this love of life that Shep has,” says Del Crandall ’84, a longtime friend who met Shanley in 1980.
Carol Lunkenheimer, the former dean for undergraduate admission who retired in 2007, appreciated his calming presence, especially on days when she had to deal with disappointed parents.
“He isn’t your typical ‘road runner,’ as we used to call ourselves in admissions,” says longtime friend Rebecca Dixon, the former associate provost for university enrollment. “He has a fount of knowledge and an elephantine memory. Shep was always viewed as an honest reflection of the University.”
“There just aren’t many like him anymore,” Watson adds, “and that’s a shame.”
Shanley, a senior associate director of admission, will retire at the end of June. The son of former faculty members J. Lyndon and Barbara Smith Shanley ’37 MA/MS, Shanley started working in admission at Northwestern in January 1971, after earning degrees at Princeton and Harvard and teaching Advanced Placement U.S. history and European history at three East Coast boarding schools.
During his tenure at Northwestern, Shanley pioneered global recruiting trips. When he went on his first overseas trip for the University in 1980, there were 14 international students in the entering class. Last year’s incoming class included more than 225 international students, accounting for 11% of the class.
Dixon says Shanley, a Francophile, was the right man for the job. In the 1980s, “Northwestern was on the cusp of becoming a real phenomenon, competing with the Ivies and Stanford and Duke,” she says. “Having international students adds to your cache, but it also broadens the horizons of the non-international students at the University. Shep was the perfect person to go, particularly to European schools and eventually Asian schools. He’s dignified, knowledgeable, kind of a man of the world, and I think that came across internationally.”
For 15 years Shanley directed the Alumni Admission Council, connecting Northwestern alumni with prospective students. Membership in the AAC grew under his watch, as did the number of interviews that alumni conducted with prospective students.
“I was able to provide a way for alumni to use their enthusiasm for Northwestern,” Shanley says. “This was a help to what we do, a help to the students who had an opportunity to contact someone locally, and a help to the AAC members who felt they were engaged in doing something that was all good.”
Since 1976 Shanley has served as a faculty fellow at Willard Residential College, “a place where I’ve made some friends forever,” he says. He sometimes invited his father, then a professor emeritus of English — and namesake of Shanley Hall — to do humorous poetry readings.
Shanley's involvement at Willard, including six years as master, “was a way to connect with a group of undergraduates early on,” Shanley explains. “I could be with them as their experience grew and talk to them about it — not be an adviser or a counselor, but just kind of a friend. It meant a lot to me to be part of student life after admissions had done its work, and to know people who were here.”
Crandall, “a committed Willardite,” met Shanley as a first-year student. Shanley spent a lot of time with students at Willard lunches, dinners and faculty-student social events. One thing in particular impressed Crandall: Shanley listens.
“Shep was not judgmental, and you could share something about yourself or your plans and know that you had a good sounding board,” recalls Crandall. “He really wanted to learn what we were interested in and what we wanted to do with our lives and how he could help us with some of that.”
Crandall met his wife, Barbara Puckett Crandall ’84, at Northwestern, and they sent their three sons — William ’14, Andrew ’16 and Edward, a rising senior — to the University. When each of their sons were considering schools, they’d go visit Northwestern for a tour and a meeting with Shanley.
“He always wanted to talk directly with my sons,” says Crandall, the deputy judge advocate general for the U.S. Navy. “It was about their choice of a university and what was going to be best for their futures.”
When Edward was wait-listed at Northwestern, it was Shanley who called him to deliver the news that he’d finally been accepted. “That was really appropriate,” Crandall says, “because that’s what it’s about — the student working with the staff and learning to become an adult and to guide his own life.”
Shanley says the connections that he’s made with students, alumni and school counselors around the world have meant the most to him. And don’t expect the anything-but-retiring Shanley to disappear from Northwestern. He plans to stay involved in the life of the University and hopes to sing in a chorus.
“This has been a wonderful experience, a great run,” he says. “The wind has been at Northwestern’s back. It’s been a very good place to be because it was always moving forward. That’s hard to beat.”