Tyson Conrad, Tilton School's Assistant Director of the Center for Academic Achievement, has been at Tilton School for 17 years. He started working on the Hill in 2003, the same year he graduated from Plymouth State University with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a minor in psychology. This past Fall, he was selected as our faculty profile for 1845: The Magazine of Tilton School. We sat down with Tyson to talk about one of the most important things in his life: family.
Family is important to you, whether it is at your home, or here at school. So, Tyson, what are your thoughts on family?
I think of family in two different ways. We have a family that we are born into that we have not chosen and is more of an obligation – which can be a challenge. Our biological family is often something we learn to deal with; it’s not going anywhere. We have mentors or teachers that we don’t choose. Then we have people that we choose to be a part of our lives such as friends or colleagues; people in our lives that we trust and love who become an integral part of our life; people that we give our heart, time and energy to. The family we are born into can be that too, but sometimes our natural family does not nourish us the way our chosen family can. I have been fortunate in that I am very close to my natural family. We have a very deep connection, and we may argue and disagree at times, but I am the person that I am because of the family I was born into, and I appreciate that. I am also the person I am because of the people I have chosen to include in my life.
Do you have people outside your immediate family that you view as profoundly as those within your biological family?
I have people that I work with that I would do almost anything for, people with whom you can share or process difficult things with, who support each other.
You’ve run dormitories here for many years, how do you see dorm life as being part of a family?
When I lived on Sutcliffe, which is smaller than Pfieffer, I went around the dorm to meet students where they live and share things that interest me. I bring my dog if it’s comfortable enough so that there might be a connection somewhere between us; maybe a TV show or a movie that we both like, or we talk about our dogs which most of our kids have and miss. Perhaps later we could share a conversation about something meaningful or unique to them and even things that may be tough to talk about.
Do you think students are looking for a family atmosphere in the dorm?
I think many are surprised to find how important it is. I know students who come back one, five, or ten years later and voice how much they appreciated their Tilton family. I do think the relationships we have here with students, faculty, and alumni are unique and something that sets us apart from other schools. It’s hard to quantify.
And what is that unique thing?
I think that we attract individuals who can recognize the potential in someone and give them a chance to discover it. I think we do an excellent job of helping students navigate challenges.
You said that trust was an aspect of your biological family; how do you build trust with students?
I have said to students in class or in the dorm whom I think are confident in their abilities and tell them, “You have a gift. I’d like you to reach out to someone who doesn’t have that gift.” I try to match up people who can help each other. It doesn’t always work, but when you tell someone they possess a trait that you admire, it builds a sense of value in that person. Perhaps they could be of benefit to someone more vulnerable. It gives them confidence in their ability to push themselves outside of their comfort zone.
And what if a person rejects that advice?
Well, one thing I’ve learned here at Tilton, is that we can’t force this family idea on people. It has to come naturally. People can change, so I continue to offer the opportunity.
Do you think of yourself as a parent here?
Well, what’s the term: In Loco Parentis? I think a parent has some responsibility for the behaviors of their children and the choices that they make – that makes being a parent very difficult. I don’t take things personally or as an affront if something goes wrong, and I try very hard to be supportive of students.
The relationship I have with my nieces has taught me how to be a better teacher here. I love them as if they were my own, but I don’t take their behaviors as seriously as their parents do. If I work with kids in that way, it makes the work a little easier for both myself and the students.
Continue reading our faculty profile on Tyson Conrad in the Winter 2019 issue of 1845: the Magazine of Tilton School.
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