10 Questions with Debra Colombo

Debra Colombo is the Director of Standardized Testing, a role within the College Counseling Office, and oversees the administration of tests, including the SAT, ACT, and AP exams. In her free time, Colombo is a member of the faculty-staff book club and enjoys reading historical fiction books.

The short story is that I started as a proctor working with the previous Director [of Standardized Testing] on a very part-time basis because I was coming back into the workforce after staying home taking care of kids for a little while. I came to Andover in 2007… I love bringing together students from every quarter. I like walking down the path to [Paresky] Commons [and] seeing every kind of student. I love looking at the rosters. I can always tell where [students] come from. I can tell by names how many students we have from every country, and I think that it is a good thing that our students have a multicultural exposure. 


It’s an administrative role managing the administration of college standardized testing, college admissions, and standardized testing at the school.


I am part of the faculty-staff book club. I do Martha Fenton [’83’s] functional fitness as well. Twice a week she runs a fitness class for faculty and staff, so I participate in those… I [also] love kayaking on my own boat. My husband and I own our own boat, and we have a bunch of friends who own kayaks, so we kayak as many weekends as we can. We have friends in Portsmouth and friends in Western [Massachusetts], and we do all the rivers and lakes in this area.


I love Commencement. I haven’t done it recently, but I did volunteer for many years to help with Commencement. I’m often the person who, when the faculty is marching in, goes to the left and to the right and has to count out the number of seats in the row. I just love Commencement. I love the Scottish pipe and drum [and] bagpipe band. It’s an ongoing memory, but it’s one of my favorite things about it. It’s the culmination of the year, and it’s the culmination of four years for the students. I wouldn’t say it’s the reason the school exists, so to speak, but it is the celebration of the students finalizing their time. And, I just think that’s great.


Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth.” I love historical fiction. It’s a novel so you get somebody’s story, but it’s based on truth, so you’re learning a little bit of history. It’s really interesting. I love books in series because [when] I read a book, I can’t put it down and want more. I think he wrote four books in that series. He’s a prolific writer in historical fiction.


I love it when they have grilled cheese. But that’s maybe not my favorite meal. I also like the pizza and love the salad bar. I eat [from the] salad bar almost every day, and I feel very grateful to have a healthy option that I can customize for myself.


Getting together with friends. I was so happy to have a snow day [last weekend]. We stayed home, made soup, had a fire in the fireplace, and did a puzzle. My kids are grown, which is sad but good at the same time, so I love getting together with friends to do activities.


I have seen a lot of generations come through. Standardized testing itself has changed a lot in terms of going digital and in terms of my proctors needing to use technology to run a test, so it went from paper and pencil in all regards to the use of technology on [many] of the parts required for administering a test. The actual administering of standardized testing has gotten more complicated on my end, and we are right on the cusp now of the SAT going digital, and [from] everything that I’ve read, students like it. I think kids at [Andover], most of the ones that I see, are serious students and put a lot of pressure on themselves, for good and for bad. It can be good to push yourself through something that isn’t easy. So I don’t think I’ve seen that change, but standardized testing itself has changed over the years. 


The quick and easy answer I tell kids is to get a good night’s rest and to eat breakfast… But I want kids to know that while it seems like the most critical thing, that test, that score, I want them to understand it’s just really one piece in a larger picture, and students can take the test more than once. So, if you feel you did not do well on a day, or you’re nervous about the day, you need to think “I can take this again if I need to.” A test score [is] only one piece of a picture that [a] student would provide to a college, it’s not the whole thing, colleges aren’t going to only see the score. I would like students to put standardized testing in perspective, it’s just one [part] of the student that will be presented to colleges. It’s more important for the student to find a match that is comfortable for the student, and for the student, no matter where they go to apply themselves and make the most out of whatever college they go to. 


Seize the day. I know it’s cliché, but take time to look at the little things. I had a dog, and I walked him every day. I don’t have him anymore, but I loved watching the seasons. We have such a beautiful campus. I think students should notice the beauty around them. Look at the budding trees; the snow on campus today was gorgeous and beautiful. Look at the sky, look at the blue sky… I think seize the day and make the most of your education on campus, but also take time to take a breath and look around you, and take a moment to relax in the beauty of the nature on our campus.