Navigator for Others

By John Fahy
They say you can know a person’s priorities by how they spend their time. Somehow, our Director of College Counseling, Jeff Fuller, always has time for Jesuit students. His generous student-centeredness has made him a remarkably successful college counselor and improved the community in many other ways.

July 4, 2022. London, England. At Heathrow airport, dozens of teenagers emerge from a transatlantic flight wearing Strake Jesuit hoodies and polo shirts. They’re embarking on a cultural and historical tour of World War II sites, and Mr. Fuller is one of the faculty chaperones. “He’s like a Pied Piper!” says fellow chaperone and faculty member, Ms. Lynn Veazey. “The kids really gravitate to him. He's fun to be around. He's super helpful.” While a table of rising juniors waits for their bus, Mr. Fuller sits down and introduces himself. They’re all soon laughing together.

Prior to arriving at Jesuit in 2017, Mr. Fuller had been nationally recognized for his leadership in university admissions. But a more student-centered way of life was calling to him. “In a big university, you reach a point where interaction with students is replaced by interactions with your team, faculty, and administrators; there are fewer moments for deeply connecting with students and families. That's what drew me to this work. It's those moments, in counseling and elsewhere, that affirm this is where God wants me to be.” Mr. Fuller’s connections with students and families extend far beyond his primary responsibilities in the college counseling department.

February 28, 2023. Leona, Texas. Two green and white school buses unload at the Retreat and Leadership Center. Mr. Fuller is directing the four-day Kairos retreat, which he has directed twice before. He cares for students’ spiritual lives because he knows the importance of caring for his own spiritual life. “Coming to Jesuit really allowed me to check my own faith, to be welcomed as a faculty member, and identify more deeply with the bigger purpose for my life. The college search has to include a faith piece, it has to be about reflection and discernment. I need to know God’s role in my life for students to know God’s place in their college choice.”

The impact of faith on Mr. Fuller’s broader work is apparent to colleagues and students. “If Jeff only cared about where the guys go to college, he wouldn’t take the time to be a Kairos Director. He cares even more about their personal, moral, and spiritual growth,” says theology teacher and fellow Kairos director Jeremy Dunford. Mr. Fuller describes his work on Kairos as an enactment of the characteristic of cura personalis — in Jesuit education, caring for a student means caring for his entire person, not only one limited part of his development. Students see this care, too. “I think he just cares so much about us, even separate from college stuff... just our life, and our whole high school experience,” says Rushil Chetty ’23.

June 16, 2023. San Diego, California. Jesuit t-shirts dot the landscape of a dilapidated urban garden. Students are hauling materials to beautify a community they’ll probably never visit again. As faculty chaperone, Mr. Fuller offers firm encouragement to work hard, but with the same student-centered touch he brings to all his work. “One day, Mr. Fuller caught wind that it was my birthday,” says Henry Maytum ’24. “And he made me feel like I was back at home. He got me a cake, and kind of hyped it up with the other students. It was very cool.” Maytum still checks in with Mr. Fuller since their return to Houston, just to say hello, or to seek occasional advice on the college search.

August 15, 2023. Houston, Texas. The school year hasn’t quite begun yet, and at 4:00 PM, the work day is just about over. Student Body President John Robert Vaio ’24 wanders into the College Counseling offices, which are temporarily housed in the Hamilton Building until the College Counseling Center opens in Moran Hall in January 2024. He finds Mr. Fuller and peppers him with questions about the college applications he is earnestly beginning — should he remain in all his five AP classes this semester? Which of the essay prompts should he answer? What’s the right strategy for Notre Dame?

It’s John Robert’s first time applying to college, of course, and Mr. Fuller is an expert. His professional excellence is widely known. Students cite how knowledgeable he is, how he seems to know people at every college, and how he tells them the truth with love. His parent presentations have been called “Master Classes.” Colleagues know him as “a tremendous role model and leader in our industry.”

But Mr. Fuller’s focus is less on metrics and accolades, insofar as these can hide the personal story of each student and family, critical to accompanying them through a process as challenging and sometimes stressful as the college transition.

Science teacher Dr. Scott Berger often mentions a student to Mr. Fuller when they cross paths on campus, and says, “Jeff always knows their name... always knows their story. He’s at the top of his game in college counseling, but his replies are always more than just strategy. He answers from the heart. He’s always thinking about what is really good for the student.”

Rushil Chetty ’23 says that Mr. Fuller “really helped shape my whole trajectory through high school and into college, but also through the death of my grandpa and so many other moments. At this point, I can go to him with anything. He's kind of like a second dad I had at school, someone I know I can really trust.”

Mr. Fuller offers the Jesuit community a seemingly endless reserve of time and energy to develop student relationships, to know them better, to serve them better, and to best prepare them for the world ahead. John Robert Vaio (that senior who found Mr. Fuller on August 15th) says, “Mr. Fuller does everything in the best, most empathetic, compassionate way. I can see that this guy really cares about me and my future and wants what's best for me... He always makes everybody feel like they are his primary concern.”

And for the record, Mr. Fuller isn’t even Vaio’s college counselor. They met in London’s Heathrow Airport on July 4, 2022.