by Carissa Rutkauskas
Curiosity led Emerson Loisel, UConn HESA ’15, to his current position as Assistant Director of Student Activities at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Although the VT native and University of Vermont alumnus (Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies ’13) didn’t know where he saw himself going when he started the HESA program, he knew he liked school and wanted to be in an education-related field.
At the beginning of his HESA studies, Loisel didn’t have an end goal other than to follow his curiosity, but he did know that he wanted to be in a place where he could challenge systems of power, especially in their overall intentions. He feels that HESA more than prepared him with a knowledge base of higher education and student affairs practices, giving him the tools to navigate unfamiliar situations and contexts. Upon his arrival at MICA, Loisel recognized that he did not share many of the identities of the people of Baltimore his students were working with but did hold a desire for them to have an exceptionally positive, productive, and self-directed education experience. Loisel shares, “UConn taught me achievement is sticking to my beliefs and ethics, not just checkmarks. HESA gave me the tools to leave institutions better than I found them.”
Loisel is not an artist, but a self-described art appreciator. He enjoys and relates to the way artists engage in and question the world around them. MICA students’ sense of cohesiveness around pushing boundaries aligns with Loisel’s personal beliefs. He started his position at MICA a couple of months after the death of Freddie Gray. Gray was a 25-year old Black man arrested by the Baltimore police for allegedly possessing an illegal switchblade. While in police custody Gray suffered a severe spinal cord injury which is widely believed to be the result of excessive force used during transport to the police station. As a result of this injury Gray fell into a coma and ultimately died. Gray’s death is widely considered murder. Through the MICA students’ art-based activism related to the Gray tragedy, Emerson Loisel began to better understand and find his place in his new city, school, and student body. The art students have a refined skill to critique artwork; they were able to transfer these skills into their present surroundings by engaging in social justice and community service as a response to events leading to Gray’s death. Their actions helped deepen Loisel’s understanding of the ways a city and university can share a healthy symbiotic relationship, if forged properly.
MICA is a small private institution, home to just 1,850 undergraduate students and 250 graduate students, a drastic difference from Loisel’s previous experiences in large, public institutions. Aside from the regional transition, his transition from student to professional has provided him with a more realistic perspective of administration. He now understands the difference between high-value and low-value work – as a grad student it was sometimes easy to quickly complete the low-value work, but as a professional, prioritizing high-value work requires more focus. Loisel has also learned to make decisions with self-assurance and better understands what he functionally can do and ethically should do.
Loisel’s inquisitiveness helps him frame potentially negative situations into positive experiences. Shortly after his arrival to MICA, a staff member left the Student Activities Office. Loisel chose to see this vacant post as an opportunity to advocate for a more effective office structure and create new positions within that space. He helped lead an initiative to restructure his office into one that functions well for student needs. Loisel may have had doubts during that process, but called upon his experiences with UConn Community Standards, under the guidance of Cathy Cocks, Kim Hill, and Jane Benoit-Bean, and in the Programs Office with Jess Gerum, and felt confident that he knew that he did indeed have the ability to form a solution.
Emerson Loisel describes higher ed as a “rad place to be” and advises finding a job that fits you – “you’ll find patience and resilience in yourself,” he says. Having a job in the saturated market of Student Affairs (the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page has a following of over 27,000), is an achievement in itself, but Loisel offers this advice: You can find a job anywhere in the country if you want, or you can stay close to your family and network. You can make your job your life, or you can work a 40-hour week and have time to invest in other activities. Just make sure you remember to make time for yourself.
Loisel followed his curiosity to become a Higher Education and Student Affairs professional at the Maryland Institute College of Art. A fan of education, he has fulfilled his desire to be in such a space and is surrounded by students who fuel his desire to question the world around him as they develop their own interests and become conscious of the capacity they hold to disassemble systems of power.