As I prepare to wrap up my graduate school experience in the next 3 weeks, I really wonder in the most cliche way possible: where did the time go? It seems that the last two years of classes, assistantship experiences, practicum internships, and relationship building has flown by now that I’m nearing the end. UConn HESA students present a capstone oral examination at the conclusion of the program to be successfully hooded with the degree of Master of Arts. As many folks in #SAGrad programs complete some kind of culminating portfolio, it can be a valuable time of reflection and deep thought in an overwhelmingly busy final semester.
The course “Seminar in Higher Education” is an important aspect of the HESA core curriculum. Set in the final semester of the HESA program, the course is designed to further integrate HESA’s curriculum and practice-based experiences to prepare students to make the transition into the next chapter of their journey, whether it be in a professional setting or entering into a doctoral program.
Traditionally, the course has featured a mock interview component which gives students the opportunity to refine their interview skills. This spring offered that same opportunity to students, but featured an exciting update. Intentional changes were made to further reflect what students will experience in a first-round interview while simultaneously providing an opportunity to network with the HESA alumni community. Instead of the traditional in-person mock interviews, students connected with HESA alumni over digital platforms for virtual, web-based interviews.
HESA Program Director Dr. Kari Taylor, who is teaching the seminar this spring, worked with Caitlin Trinh, Director of Alumni Relations at the Neag School of Education, as well as Ana Clara Blesso, Assistant Director for Experiential Learning at the Center for Career Development, and Lisa Famularo, a HESA student whose Graduate Assistantship is with the Center for Career Development. Caitlin reached out to program alumni and helped connect them with the initiative, while Ana and Lisa helped to prepare students for this experience by giving a presentation to the class on how to best prepare for an interview prior to the mock interviews with alumni.
Each student submitted a resume and cover letter for a position to which they were interested in applying. These resources were shared with the alumni who served as the mock employer. Instead of one day for all the interviews, each student-alumni pair negotiated the scheduling of their own interview. With these changes to the overall experience, the HESA community was able to use its strong reciprocal relationships to help students refine their career skills and build valuable professional and mentorial relationships.
To get a better understanding of the new mock interview experience, we caught up with one student-alumnus pair: Current second-year HESA student Cristina Carpentier and HESA alumnus La’Rez Wilson (‘13), who currently serves as the Community Relations Coordinator in the Department of Social Change at The Ohio State University.
The Student Perspective
What do you feel that the mock interview program offered you at this point in your HESA experience?
CC: I thought the mock interview assignment was really helpful. Considering that the job search is taking up most of my brain space these days, it was nice to have a class assignment with direct application to that process. While I didn’t end up actually interviewing for the position I chose for my mock interview, the experience still offered me the direction and motivation I needed to improve my interview skills. La’Rez offered me specific feedback on things I did well and the answers that needed further thought; it was a solid combination of a confidence boost and an opportunity for growth. It was also nice to connect with a HESA alum so close to graduation because it reminded me of how far this community extends.
How did you prepare for the interview?
CC: I wanted to be able to answer questions with concrete examples tied to my skills and values. So to prepare for the interview, I scanned the job application for specific skills the employer was looking for and came up with a list of my related experiences. I also read through the office’s and institution’s websites so I could clearly explain how I saw myself fitting into those spaces. Lastly, I came up with a few questions that would help me get the pointed feedback I was looking for from my mock interviewer.
What’s one thing that surprised you about the interview?
CC: I was surprised by how quickly La’Rez and I connected! I suppose it could’ve been because I knew he wasn’t actually looking to hire me – that certainly took some pressure off – but I think it was more than that. I liked knowing that he had been through the same graduate program I’m currently going through. It made me feel more comfortable than I was expecting to feel, which helped me to put my best foot forward. I also appreciated having the opportunity to talk to him a bit about his position and function area. He offered me some helpful and comforting insights on the job search within the service learning and civic engagement function area that I was not planning to walk away with.
What’s one particularly great piece of information you took away from the mock interview process?
CC: I walked away from the mock interview process understanding the importance and value of presenting your most authentic self in interviews. I struggled to answer questions when I began thinking about what the interviewer wanted to hear and he noticed this struggle. On the flip side, the responses that came from my personal values and experiences were clearer and more meaningful. La’Rez advised me to take a moment to myself to consider what I really want to say before responding to challenging questions. I now know that doing so will help me to offer more genuine and effective responses.
What advice would you give to next year’s mock interviewees?
CC: I would advise next year’s mock interviewees to take full advantage of the opportunity by really applying themselves to the assignment and working to build a connection with their interviewers. The job search is a pretty daunting process – take all the help you can get!
The Alumnus Perspective
Can you take us through your journey since you graduated from the UConn HESA program?
LW: Currently I’m at The Ohio State University and I’m working as a Coordinator within their Department of Social Change. I found myself there basically because of my love of working with students, specifically in the realms of civic engagement and service learning. Before coming back to Ohio, which is where I’m originally from, I was doing similar work at Washington University in St. Louis for 4 years. I remember applying for jobs during my second year in the UConn HESA program and I was a little nervous because I was one of the folks in our cohort that didn’t like interviews. When I found the position at Washington University I thought: I love working with students and I love working with kids, so it’s a good combination. While at UConn, I was working in the Office of Community Outreach and I was a Graduate Assistant for the Community Service Learning Community, and those positions made me really want to look into how I could do that professionally and full-time.
What made you want to be a mock interviewer?
LW: Well, I thought back to my own mock interview experience. At the time, I felt like I just tanked! Some of the biggest feedback I got was that I didn’t leverage my skills and experiences enough to really showcase all the work I had done. So when I got the email about being an interviewer for the mock interview program, I thought: this is my time to professionally give back. I know what it’s like to go through the interview experience, I know what it takes to prepare for an interview. At Washington University, I did a phone interview, I did a Skype interview, and of course I had an on-campus interview, and then as part of the job selection process I was required to write an essay. And all this while trying to figure out my plans for the future, still applying for other jobs, and in the midst of my final semester at HESA; it was pretty stressful. So when I got the email from HESA I thought, I need to share these experiences with others and really offer that space for reflection.
What insight were you excited to share with Cristina?
LW: I wanted to share what I was feeling during my own interview experiences, and to dig deeper and understand what she felt during the mock interview. Because those same emotions and behaviors are going to translate themselves into the real-life experience, so let’s take some time to reflect on it now while we still can. I also wanted to share some tips that I’ve picked up along the way from interviewing, from mentors, from my own experience, from my friends. As part of my current position, I work with incarcerated youth in hopes of helping them gain skills in order to reenter society effectively. We’ve been doing workshops in some of the detention centers in the central Ohio area and one of the things we talk about is how to recognize illegal or touchy questions that aren’t necessarily related to the job. For those populations, it’s particularly helpful to understand that because there are such high stakes involved. With Cristina, we didn’t really touch on questions to look out for or anything like that, but we did touch on how to stay vigilant about what’s being asked and why. Knowledge is power, and that’s going to be helpful going into the interview process.
What would you say to HESA alumni who want to get involved in the mock interview program?
LW: Do it! It sounds so to-the-point, but seriously. Mock interviews are a great way to professionally give back, but they’re also a way to make sure that you are still prepped and primed for the career search experience. One piece of advice that I received from a mentor along the way was that if you have the opportunity to be on a search committee, take it. Because it helps you to see what others are seeing when they’re evaluating candidates, but also to improve your eye for recognizing talent. I think that’s something that’s not easily taught. So I think being a mock interviewer is a good opportunity to keep those skills sharp and to share your experience. And ultimately, one of the strongest things that we can do as alumni is help share our stories, help make the process a little smoother, a little less stressful. I told Cristina all that I’m telling you: I was stressed out, I was nervous about interviews, and I think it was validating for her because she felt the same. And it’s good to be able to say hey, I was there, it’s going to get better. And let’s talk about how to get there.
As we wrap up another semester, we’d like to extend our gratitude to everyone who contributed to this year’s successful mock interviews. If you are an alumni who is looking to get involved for future mock interviews, please contact Dr. Kari Taylor.
On April 4th, HESA hosted a Student Appreciation Day in the Gentry Building. The event gathered HESA students, faculty and staff together to celebrate student contributions over ice cream, refreshments, a “Graduate Self Care Station.” Photos from the event can be found here.
On February 18-19, 2018, the Higher Education & Student Affairs program held their Interview Days as the final portion of the application for the 2020 HESA cohort. 62 candidates were invited to the UConn Storrs campus, and 57 of them participated in the two-day interview process for available graduate assistantships. These candidates were selected from 245 applicants and were invited to participate for the opportunity to be placed at one of sixteen graduate assistantship sites including:
The College of Liberal Arts and Science Alumni Relations Office
The Center for Career Development
Careers for the Common Good hosted by the Center for Career Development and the Community Outreach Office
The Department of Residential Life
The Dean of Students’ Office
The Higher Education & Student Affairs (HESA) Program
The Office of Early College Programs
The Office of Global Affairs
The Puerto Rican & Latin American Cultural Center
The Rainbow Center
Student Activities - The Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life
Student Activities - The Student Union Board of Governors (SUBOG)
The Student Union
The Graduate School
The Women’s Center
Upon conclusion of the interviews, candidates and graduate assistantship sites submit their respective preferences and assistantships are awarded based on this mutual selection process.
Not only does the HESA Interview Days give the incoming candidates an opportunity to interview with their potential graduate assistantship but it also offers a chance for the candidates to meet the program faculty, as well as current HESA students enrolled in the program. In addition to interviewing with the assistantship sites, seven HESA faculty participated in the Interview Days and interviewed students one-on-one. In total, the two days consisted of 250 interviews, and lots of fruitful conversation.
This story has been altered from its original version. The original version was written by Danielle Falper and was published on the Neag website on March 9, 2018. It is available here.
The Neag School of Education at UConn recently announced HESA student Denée Jackson as a recipient of the Neag School of Education Alumni Board Scholarship.
The Neag School of Education Alumni Board Scholarship provides a $1,000 award available annually to students enrolled in a master’s, doctorate, or sixth-year program and who have proven academic excellence or demonstrated financial need. The scholarship is intended to invest in the education and experience of Neag School students. For the 2019 academic year, there were 35 applicants.
“The Neag School of Education Alumni Board Scholarship is one that aims to not only support aspiring educators, but also honor the passion and talents of those who are committed to doing what is arguably one of the most important and challenging jobs of today,” says Kate Lund, president of the Neag School of Education Alumni Board. “As a board, we are committed to awarding these important scholarships each year and are entirely grateful for the generous contributions from our alumni, who share our support of and pride in these promising teachers.”
Jackson received her bachelor of arts in communications from the University of Connecticut in 2014. Jackson was enrolled in a master’s program at North Carolina State University, but she returned to Connecticut after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“I approach my learning with a ferocity because the more I learn, the more I can influence change and uplift communities,” says Jackson, whose mother inspired her to pursue higher education. “The more that I learn about oppressive policies within systemically unequitable systems, the more I can do to deconstruct them and build new equitable and inclusive systems.”
“Although my responsibilities sometimes require urgent attention, I have a legacy to uphold. I am hoping that my passion and grit, built on the foundation that my amazing mom instilled in me, will lead me to attaining my master’s and doctoral degrees while espousing my conviction of education as a means to attaining a more socially just world,” says Jackson.
Jackson is currently a Husky Sport mentor, facilitating coursework as well as professional development for a team of 40 graduate and undergraduate students.
She is also a graduate student intern at the UConn Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and assisted in the development of a new Greek life program, and advised the 2016 HuskyTHON to benefit the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
Recently, 2nd-year HESA student Emily Fiagbedzi presented two workshops at the 2018 National IMPACT Conference. According to the conference website, IMPACT is the “largest annual conference focused on the civic engagement of college students in community service, service-learning, community-based research, advocacy and other forms of social action.” This year’s conference was held at the University of Dayton in Ohio.
Emily’s first workshop was entitled “Doing well and doing good: Supporting students in their pursuit of social good career paths,” and it targeted administrators and professional staff. The workshop shared the history, structure, and activities of UConn’s Careers for the Common Good initiative in an effort to inspire similar collaborations at universities across the nation. It included a planning and group sharing component that allowed participants to create concrete plans to take back to their institutions.
In her second workshop, “Design Thinking with the Community: Creating more effective programs and initiatives,” Emily shared how the design thinking framework (also known as “human-centered design” or “empathetic design”) can be used to develop and co-create programs alongside communities, centering community voices in order to more effectively address community needs. The workshop not only introduced the framework of design thinking, but provided resources and activities that students, administrators, and professional staff could take back to their communities and implement in their programs.
The HESA program congratulates Emily on her recent conference success.