For Raphael Okutoro, helping people has been a driving force in shaping his career since adolescence. Okutoro is the assistant director of Admissions at Castleton University, advising undergraduate transfer applicants.
He joined Castleton’s admissions team in 2013.
Okutoro spent his early years in Nigeria and Liberia, raised in the turmoil of the first Liberian Civil War. Growing up seeing death and destruction had a lasting effect on Okutoro, one of the first of many significant instances that modeled his perspective on life and how he chose to live it.
“That drive, that passion to help people is deep,” Okutoro said.
In 1998, Okutoro and his family made it to the United States, where he attended and graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx. The transition to college was another keystone point in Okutoro’s life, as it led him to his current home state of Vermont.
“I applied to 15, 16 schools, accepted to all of them. UVM was my last choice,” Okutoro said. “It was very white, cold and they didn’t have my major.”
He was considering other schools with an interest in majoring in aeronautical engineering. Embry Riddle Aeronautical University was Okutoro’s original top choice, but he became less interested after visiting the campus. After many visits and tough decisions, Okutoro found himself at UVM the following school year.
Okutoro took full advantage of what UVM had to offer. He joined Pi Kappa Alpha, a fraternity at the school, where he took part in community service often. He was always looking for ways to help, and began working in the office of admissions, with the goal of helping prospective students make the tough decision on college.
He became the student ambassador to the university’s president, and took advantage of every opportunity he had to help others.
However, it was not as smooth as it may have seemed. Okutoro began to question his major, as well as if he should stay in admissions or even stay at UVM. In Okutoro’s senior year, he remembers sitting down and bringing up his concerns with his sister, Lydia. She talked to him about what his motives really were, what his biggest goals are in his career.
“One thing: people,” Okutoro remembers responding. His mentor at UVM, then Director of Admission Don Honeman, played a big part in Okutoro’s decision to stay at UVM and in admissions.
“I want to help people. I want to stay in admissions,” he said thinking back to that discussion.
Admissions became a passion for Okutoro as it gave him the opportunity to help people on a daily basis with something as important as their education and career.
Okutoro graduated from UVM and moved to New Hampshire where he worked in admissions at Daniel Webster College and Saint Anselm College from 2005 until he returned to Vermont at Castleton University in 2013. Okutoro is in his fifth year on the admissions team at Castleton.
If you ask just about anyone who knows Okutoro to describe him, chances are you’ll hear about his charisma, energy and the happiness he brings to the workplace consistently. However, some of the closer employees to Okutoro know there’s more than meets the eye.
“He likes to sing to us on occasion,” said Maurice Ouimet, the dean of admissions. “Whether that’s intentional or not,” Ouimet trails off with a chuckle.
Okutoro’s music taste apparently makes an appearance often in the Admissions Office as well, as Okutoro loves to share his music collection with his fellow employees.
“We share an admissions vehicle that we use… to go to college fairs, and he likes to play his CDs for us on the road,” Ouimet said. “Some of his music I like, some of it I don’t.”
But on a serious note, Ouimet said Okoturo brings a lot more than questionable music to the admissions team.
“He is a very caring and supportive person and relates well to his work with transfer students,” Ouimet said. “He is patient and thorough with them as they navigate what can be seen by many as a challenging process.”