Podcast: Emmaline Cook: Learning for the Sake of Learning

In today’s episode, Signet’s Account Manager Emmaline shares her remarkable journey—from unconventional high school experiences and the complexities of college admissions to a surprising detour into dance during a transformative gap year. Her story is a testament to self-discovery, resilience, and the pursuit of authentic fulfillment. Tune in!

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TRANSCRIPT

Emmaline Cook: 

And I kept saying after tours, I didn’t hate that one. I never felt like I found the one until unfortunately, I went to Harvard, and was like, I fit here. And it’s, I say unfortunate because when you’re setting off on your college admissions, being like Harvard would be the best place for me is a ridiculous statement to me.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hello, and welcome back to the podcast. I’m so glad you’re here with me. Today, I’m sitting down with signets account manager Emmaline Cook, because she’s Seriously, just so interesting. Every time I talked to her, I learned something so radically unexpected about her life and the way she sees the world. And at the same time, as it’s unexpected, it just makes so much sense for the person I know her to be. And the values that we espouse at Signet, I wanted to have her on to share this story, as an example of both a student who did it right. And a family that did it right. Mr. Lyons parents, as you’ll hear in the interview, really just encouraged her and her brother, to pursue their curiosity to the extent that they could. And that has served her so well in her life, and has given her a set of passions that she’s sort of relentlessly pursuing in all aspects of her life, and has led to a lot of really interesting life experiences for her even at a young age, she has a lot of wisdom to share and to offer. And I also thought it’d be nice since she is the person who talks to every incoming client at Signal education for you all to get to know her a little bit and get a taste of what she’s like and what it would be like to talk to her about your situation, your kids. So have a listen. And I’ll see you on the other side. Thanks so much for joining me, Emmaline. It’s really nice to have you here.

Emmaline Cook: 

Thanks for having me. I’ve been listening to this podcast for a few weeks now. So it’s funny to be on it.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, this is very exciting for both of us then. So I wanted to bring you on. Because every once in a while you drop in our conversations about work, you drop these little nuggets of something that your parents emphasized when you were growing up, or a reflection on your process of applying to college. And I’m always so fascinated, you’re talking to Andrea recently, our Director of Operations, and I was saying how you’re like the most interesting woman in the world, like every time you tell us a story. It’s like, Wait, what did you do that’s so mind blowing. I love for our audience to hear some of those nuggets and get to know some of those very interesting tidbits about you. But also really have a way to kind of understand some of the principles that we think about here at Signet all the time, in terms of your story, and what it was like for you going through it. So I’m gonna stop babbling so much and ask you an actual question. So talk to us a little bit about what you’re doing now, not just at Signet, but also with your graduate work. And then we’ll back up and talk about Emmaline in high school and what the process was like for you.

Emmaline Cook: 

Sounds good. I can’t wait to replay the part about you saying I was the most interested women in the world over and over when it’s uploaded. But so I’m currently getting a master’s in education. It is focused in human development, and I’m getting it from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Doing human development in a school of education was a way of doing psychology through a more holistic lens. I had worked for clinical psychologists I had planned on going that route, and then human development, education, school systems, social emotional learning all kinds of felt much more true and authentic to what I wanted to be doing. I kind of fell into that, but it really has been the correct choice. And I fell into that by working for Dr. Ellen Braaten, which is also how I connected with Signet and Sheila I was doing neuro psych evaluations and Ellen does a lot more of school based psychology pieces, you know, kind of helping connect the psychology mumbo jumbo to what actually is going on in schools. And then I found Signet and it’s Signet. I am the account manager which has been really neat just because I I have tended to be the first person that people talk to, and they are reaching out to us. And so I get this whole story of what they need, what they’re looking for, and what they think they could use some help with, which combines, I feel like all of my jobs into one of kind of keeping that safe space psychology talk, but also bringing in, you know, those pieces of the School of Education and my own views on college admissions and that process and how it’s really stressful. And what we at Signet could do to make that a little bit less stressful.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, I’m so glad to hear as you know, one of your supervisors that this feels like the nexus of a lot of different interests for you, that’s always a great thing to hear. So let’s back up, let’s talk about your experience in high school, and the values that your family had around education. Talk to us about that.

Emmaline Cook: 

Yeah, so my, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve started graduate school, but my mom’s parents are the children of immigrants, and their parents were postal workers and taxi drivers. And they had always kind of pushed this. Education is the key. I don’t want to see too moving up in the world, but kind of education was the key to an easier life. And so they did that my grandparents both have multiple graduate degrees. And that just influenced the way I was raised and the way I viewed education. And I think I’ve grown to really appreciate that. The push from my brother and I was really focused on intellectual curiosity, learning for the sake of learning, wanting to be able to hold conversations that hold weight, wanting to be able to understand academic papers, wanting to be able to be a part of the world where people are making these conversations that are new, they’re innovative, the conversations themselves are leading to changes in whatever field you’re listening to. And that push in that drive to, you know, be smart for the sake of being smart, led my brother to go to Yale and led me to go to Harvard. But I really believe that that was like a chicken egg situation of like, be smart to be smart. There are lots of smart people at these schools, but it wasn’t go to these schools, and then you’ll be smart. And I just have really appreciated that.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right. So like a focus on the process of learning and just educating yourself for the for the sake of being a smart, interesting person. And then that necessarily leads to really cool opportunities and outcomes, right? I wonder if you could share with us an example of what that looked like in your household when your parents were encouraging you, or encouraging your intellectual curiosity? Or you mentioned something about reading academic papers? Were you doing that as a high schooler?

Emmaline Cook: 

Well, we were big on reading with my parents, my local library, and then my parents also really pushed the reading outside of school. And there’s a whole world inside of a book. And so that started obviously, with not academic papers. But it led into as I got older, I would have interest in then, you know, they might be interested, weren’t expanded on in school, and kind of just like, oh, there are papers about this. My grandparents were big on the New York Times, and kind of just, I don’t even really mean academic papers, I just mean sort of non school, high school level based papers and being willing and like having the understanding to reach in find those sources, to look into things that you found interesting that weren’t going to be talked about in school.

Sheila Akbar: 

And what were some of those things for you? What were you interested in?

Emmaline Cook: 

Well, I, in high school, stopped taking physical education so that I could do an independent study. And in the independent study I was writing that turned into sort of like a feminism focused year for me. The next year, I did the same thing. And I focused more on a school systems. I was on my school districts curriculum committee, where we looked at what was being taught in schools, what levels what year all those things. And so that was kind of the second year the first year was really this deep dive into, I want to say academic feminism, because at the time, I didn’t have the impetus to pick out the biases in feminism. And as we know, through the different waves of feminism, there’s very different opinions. And I was being taught by someone who had sort of an outdated version of feminism. And so, as I’ve gotten older, it’s been cool because I learned at you know, 15 to be reading these Gloria Steinem based things, but then as I got older, having that background knowledge, I was able to actually manipulate it and make up my own decisions on it. But I do credit that initial deep dive into the It was pieces, helping me then being able to navigate my own opinions on things like that.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s fantastic. I definitely wasn’t doing anything like that when I was 15. I imagine that would have been really helpful as I started navigating kind of the young adult and adult world to have had that introduction that at such a young age, but that may also be a generational difference, because I do think people in younger generations are getting exposed to that kind of thing a lot earlier, and it’s become kind of a key framework for young women.

Emmaline Cook: 

Yeah, I definitely also, this, like the scaffolding of my school of being allowed to do those independent studies, I think was paramount to my path in high school, you know, you apply to do those, you have to get waived out of physical education, you have to have an advisor that believes that you can do this independent work. And, you know, well, I couldn’t I did, I wouldn’t have had my teachers not kind of told me that this is something that I could be doing. And those pieces, I probably underestimated at the time, and now hear stories, even from Signet phone calls of like, Oh, my guidance counselor never would have said that. And it’s like, it’s such some of these things are so simple. And if one person says them to you, at the right time, makes a world of difference. And

Sheila Akbar: 

It can change your trajectory

Emmaline Cook: 

Completely. Yes.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, let’s, let’s zoom ahead a little bit to the start of your college process. So you were doing all of these really interesting things. You’re pursuing your curiosities to these very high levels? That seems like and then it’s time for you to start thinking about where you want to go to college. Now, your brother is older than you, right? So he was already at Yale.

Emmaline Cook: 

He’s two years older. So I sort of started college around my freshman and sophomore year, because he was a junior and then senior.

Sheila Akbar: 

Okay. And did his achievement loom large over you did that influence you at all?

Emmaline Cook: 

Oh, I completely. I actually I was pulling up my essays, my admissions essays, and I have my common app one, and I have my Harvard one. And my Harvard one is entirely about that. I grew up in a really small town, I was always Max’s little sister. Definitely resented it. I’ll fill you in on the essay. And this puts it all together. I felt from my perception that Max thought school was really easy. He excelled at sports, he excelled at music. And you know, he was kind of like the golden boy. And I always felt very black sheep. I was more artistic. I wanted to question things. I was doing independent studies, like all of those things sort of went together. And I wrote this essay, which I think looking back, I wrote it and then I was done being exes little sister, because I put it on paper. I submitted it, and it was out there and it was done. So this paper I wrote for Harvard, was about superheroes. And I don’t know where I got this notion. But for some reason, I thought that superheroes were either. You know, you’re born with superpowers, or there was some superhero in my brain somewhere that fell into like nuclear waste and became the superhero. Sure. No, that’s that’s common. So Max was a natural born superhero. And, you know, he got to go through life with those powers. And he utilized them. Well, he was, there was never pressure purposefully on me because he was my older brother. But I was a fall into nuclear waste superhero, and had to use the troubles. I went through my anxieties about test taking all these things. And because I had to use those, they made me powerful. And because I had to kind of work through these things. I was a different kind of superhero, but it didn’t make me any less good at things. But when I was reading the essay, I was like, I called my brother a plus man. And I called myself hard working hero. The question was, how would you use your college education. And I talked a lot about hard working hero, and the point being that I was going to help other people find their powers, which I feel like, I’m still looking to do. So I feel like that, you know, remains true, which is actually kind of special. Those initial drives are still there.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that’s that’s so amazing. And I’m so glad the universe brought you to Signet because that’s also what we try to do right is help kids find their path and the way that they can show their strengths. Okay, so how did you choose where you were going to apply?

Emmaline Cook: 

So I wanted to stay close to home. I’m from Massachusetts. I wanted to stay near here. So my mother went to Brown. And I always wanted to go to brown because I thought I still think that my mom was the smartest person I know. And I felt like following that smart to be smart, she was so smart, I should go or she went, because that would mean I’m so smart. I think being from New England wanting to stay in your home, the ivy League’s are obviously enticing. And I think in this, and I’m sure there’s a piece of like elitism and that sort of thing to him. In my mind, that’s where all the really really smart people were. So I wanted to be with them. I also was a pretty serious dancer and was looking at different dance conservatory schools kind of, can I do dance and be in the place where they’re really, really smart people, my college needs where I could walk to a CVS to buy toothpaste, because I kept looking at these campuses that are in the middle of nowhere. And I was like, I can’t do this. So toothpaste, and there had to be a football team. Because if there was a football team, there was enough quote, unquote, normal people. And therefore I could go there. And I kept saying, after tours, I didn’t hate that one. I never felt like I found the one until unfortunately, I went to Harvard, and was like, I fit here. And it’s, I say unfortunate, because when you’re setting off on your college admissions, being like Harvard would be the best place for me is a ridiculous statement to make. But it helped also that maximum TL because I didn’t want to go where he went. And then I kind of decided, you know, Brown was my mom, so maybe I should not go there. So New England, small ish, where the where the smart people were, which I my definition of that has definitely changed. postgrad toothpaste football team. That’s my lids.

Sheila Akbar: 

Very simple. Very simple.

Emmaline Cook: 

Yeah.

Sheila Akbar: 

Okay. So all right, you decided you applied early to Harvard, right.

Emmaline Cook: 

I applied early to Harvard, and I applied early to UVM.

Sheila Akbar: 

So tell us how that went. Because I know there was a whole journey in getting to Harvard. So tell us that story.

Emmaline Cook: 

Oh, a whole journey. So I applied early, I was deferred, which I was thrilled about, because I was still in the running, which continued to motivate me throughout my senior year, I stayed on the curriculum committee, I was on the school board, I continued to seek out what I wanted, where I was going to be able to do that, who I wanted to continue to be, which led to also being waitlisted. So come, April, I knew that I wasn’t going to be going to Harvard. In the months of April and May. I spoke at my graduation, received whatever awards and scholarships I did from the district received a statewide award all of those things I sent to Harvard. I ended up choosing BC, for the time being until I was off the waitlist at Harvard. I was actually in their school of education, which now is almost comical, I would have graduated with a master’s and Ed from college. So that could have worked out possibly, but I ended up getting off the waitlist. I never really let myself, you know, sink into going to BC because I was really adamant that I was gonna get off that waitlist.

Sheila Akbar: 

Before you tell us what happened. Next. I want to hear a little bit about like, how did you deal with this? I mean, I know you said when you were deferred, you felt like okay, there’s still a chance I’m in the running. How did you feel then when it came back as a waitlist? How did you manage all of your emotions around it, and maybe the emotions of the other people in your family? Because I’m sure that that’s something that people listening are gonna want to know about?

Emmaline Cook: 

Not well, I would say in terms of handling those emotions. I was embarrassed. I hadn’t told any of my friends. I was even applying to Harvard, because I didn’t want them to know if I didn’t get in. And so I once I was deferred. There were sort of whispers on campus of who had applied where and who, you know, had been rejected and hearing on campus who had been rejected made me be like, Okay, I got deferred. I’m in a different pool. Like, I’m still in the running here. My parents, outwardly I remained hopeful. My dad definitely was like, um, I was going outward. He had decided that maybe he’s great at manifesting, I’m not sure. But that never really wavered. I think my mom definitely was more like, where are we going to be happy? Where are we gonna learn? It’s really hard though in school, especially as people hear about acceptances, especially as athletes would get commitments and you would be Be like, they took my spot, handling it when it was then waitlisted maybe my dad brushed off on me, I was like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna figure it out. I because again, I hadn’t been rejected. So I was like, they’re just a little fool. And so again, like it, it motivated me to keep doing things, which I think by the end of senior year, a lot of kids have checked out. I was revved up, I was like, I’m gonna get in. Because when there’s still hope there’s always still hope. So I was. I mean, I say not well, because I was stressed out doing this, but I do think there was always a chance.

Sheila Akbar: 

Okay, so you committed to BC, you’re still on the waitlist at Harvard. What happens over that summer?

Emmaline Cook: 

That summer, so BC actually has their orientation in the summer. So I was at orientation and got a phone call that I had gotten off the waitlist while I was standing on campus at BC, which was one of the weirdest like I’m in a coming of age film moments of my life. And on the phone with Harvard, I saw tell you my initial reaction, I was mad, because at that point, I was on VCs campus, I was here for orientation, you stay over, it’s a multiple day thing. And I was like, Alright, no, like I’ve already committed to BC, and my parents set off on a 48 hour journey of trying to not speak at all, because they didn’t want to tell me what to do. But also, like 48 hours later, when I had pushed aside my anger for the delay, and said that I would go, then it was all like, of course, you’re going boo, boo, boo, boo, boo. But I still think about when going into my parents room. They’re both in bed and being like, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Like I need some time to like, think about it. And I remember both of them just kind of looking at me and like nodding. And like thinking back on it now being like in their heads being like, this child is gonna kill us like, why? What are we talking about? But you know, I was mad. I definitely I was I was a little bit bitter, I got over it. But at that point, it was June. So I, that’s when I decided to take that year off. So I also was 17. When I graduated high school. I have an August birthday, I was right at the cutoff for my year. So I was always the youngest in my grade. A piece of that influence that that I you know, wouldn’t have been a legal adult showing up on a college campus. I was deciding where dance fit into my life. I am a planner. So having less time to think about what my year would look like at school didn’t sit well with me. So finding out quote unquote that late that that’s where I was going I needed a year to kind of figure that out. Which 26 year old Emmaline gives 17 year old Emmaline a lot of credit for because all of my friends left for school and I’m in my tiny hometown with no, like no plan because I, the safety net is that I knew where I was going to school. But I had 12 months to figure out what to do every day. And to do that now seems really scary, but I guess it’s 17. It was just like, yeah, that’s all figured out. So did a lot of things in that year, was really grateful for that year. I’m still really grateful for that year. And there’s definitely some privileges that I had of, you know, I could still live at home I had, I didn’t have to find a job immediately. I think a lot of kids when they set off on gap year is one group of people that travels for a full year with you know, not a worry in the world. That wasn’t going to be me. So I think that I think people forget that you have to you know, there’s a money piece involved in a gap year. But I kind of tried to toe the line between those two.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, absolutely. So one of those sort of mind blowing tidbits that you dropped on us the other night was that you danced with the rock cats during your gap year. Can you tell us about that? Yeah,

Emmaline Cook: 

so when I was keep in mind, I’m still 17 So that summer, I auditioned for the Rockettes there was a summer program. There were all these things. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a dancer. I had looked at schools in New York City and it was way too overwhelming for me. So I was with them for I trained for a bit I wasn’t 18 I knew I wanted to go to school in a year. So I stayed I trained and then I went to school. Do I want to be a professional dancer? No, like I found out I Could, I found out I had the abilities to, I found out what it looked like. And I wanted to go to school. And so at 17, that was enough. We’re here at 26. And I’m rethinking it may want to go back to it. But at the time, I kind of lived out that piece of who I was, and was able to then kind of dive in to the other side of me, which was that more academic side?

Sheila Akbar: 

That must have been so satisfying to actually get to try it? And say, with clear eyed with actual experience under your belt to say, No, this is not what I want right now.

Emmaline Cook: 

And I wouldn’t have known that had I not tried. And so that piece is something I’m definitely really grateful for.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. That’s so amazing. How have these lessons that you’ve learned, right? Just being smart for the sake of being smart, following your intellectual curiosity, trying things out and giving yourself clear answers, giving yourself I think space to think through what you really want to do. It seems like a theme here for you, how has that helped you navigate your professional life in grad school sets?

Emmaline Cook: 

I think I’m lucky and unlucky, meaning, I had a lot of kind of battled with anxiety and depression in high school and kind of navigating those made me figure out who I was earlier than I think some of my peers. And it also made me realize what I truly valued, which when I came to Signet, and we were in the interview process, and we were talking about signets core values. I was like, those are my core values. I think, when you deal kind of with your own mind, in a way that forces you into self reflection, it can actually be sort of helpful. I know that you’ve commented that a piece of college admissions kind of a secret would be to know yourself, and I take a lot of pride in the fact that I definitely do know myself.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, yeah, I mean, I’m gonna call you hardworking hero from now on. But it sounds like hard working girl may not have been forged in nuclear waste, but in some really pressurized situations where you kind of crystallized yourself into this lovely little diamond that you are now.

Emmaline Cook: 

You know, I It’s hard to be like, yeah, being sad is what made me so successful. But like, sometimes those things make you mature faster. And I think just knowing what I want out of my life, and knowing what’s important to me, guides me even if it’s kind of a subconscious thing.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, yeah, I think that’s great. And I think that’s an amazing place to leave it. Emmaline, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

Emmaline Cook: 

Thank you for having me.

Sheila Akbar: 

I feel like I can talk to her for hours about her life experience and what she’s studying now and what she wants to do in the future. She’s really an example of a very interesting and interested person who is really grounded in her life. And I really admire her. So I’m glad you got to hear from her. All right, as we wrap up, I do want to put in a little plug for a course that we just put out, we are trying something new here we’re putting together some group offerings, some pre recorded courses, to help spread good information about how to move through the college process at an affordable price. So my first course is on summer planning, we’re calling it the ultimate guide to summer planning, you can access it on our community page on how to get into college. And it’s just 50 bucks, you will get to hear me talk through a framework for how to set goals for your summer and how to match those goals against logistical concerns so that you can figure out the right kinds of opportunities for your children will also put those opportunities into context of how they may or may not help you in the college process, and clear up some of those rumors about what really matters. And then we’ll also talk through how to track reflect, document those activities and pull them through to a student’s entire college profile. It’s a really valuable course. And I’ve distilled a lot of information for you into a bunch of short, digestible lessons that will help you and your family move through this process, which you shouldn’t be planning right now. If you want your student to do some kind of organized program, or maybe even think about a part time job for the summer, so head on over to our circle community, the link will be in the show notes. To learn more about that course and to sign up in the next few weeks. I’m also going to be launching a live group program where I will be leading a group of students through building their college list. So if your student is a junior and they don’t have a college list started yet, this will be a great way to kick off that process. If your student is a ninth or 10th grader, it may be a little early for them, but they’re going to learn some basic principles so that they know how to do this when the time is right for them. So please keep an eye out for that and we’ll keep you updated here on the podcast, too. All right. Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you next week.

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