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HESA Alumni Spotlight

The "alumni spotlight" series is a current initiative. New stories are posted in the semesterly "HESA Happenings" newsletter.

Name: Abigail Smith
Class: 2017
Position: Residence Hall Director, Pace University (Pleasantville)

I remember reading updates of past alumni from the program and always wondered what my update would read, if I ever gave one- if I ever graduated. That’s not to say I was a horrible student but, there were nights I thought about packing up and heading back home to Jamaica. I couldn’t seem to figure out WHY I was putting myself through what felt like hell at times.

Thankfully, this July my WHY became more apparent. There is life after Storrs yall. I currently work at Pace University- Pleasantville as a Residence Director. In my new role, I co- oversee a residence hall of 550 students and I directly supervise 7 Residence Assistants who work with 4 First Year Interest Groups (think quasi living- learning communities).

Pace’s small community has allowed me to feel valued and needed to the students, division of student affairs and also faculty who I have the opportunity to work with daily. I am growing in a community that values equity, embraces change and validates my black womanhood, #BlackLivesMatter.

My message to the second years is to breathe easy, own your search and be confident in the work that you have produced. The mere fact that you have made it this far speaks volumes. You are interviewing positions more than they are interviewing you, be reflective of your time in the field and be intentional about what you are looking for in a professional setting.

You may not get everything you want but, you should not settle on your non-negotiables. First years, enjoy your time at UConn, make use of the many opportunities. You will all have different experiences, there is no need to compare your journey.  Challenge yourself and your classmates to have difficult conversations- we owe it to our marginalized colleagues and students to be equity minded professionals who are committed to justice in higher education. To both classes- Find your tribe and love them hard. Your dreams lie on the other side of your grit.


Name: Ryan Baldassario
Class: 2016
Position: Program Coordinator – Full-time MBA Program, University of Connecticut School of Business (Hartford)

Just when I thought I got out of UConn, they pulled me back in… I say this in jest; however, my post-graduation employement at UConn satisfied my location-restricted job search and provided an opportunity to work with a population of students with whom I’d yet to cross paths. At the Full-time MBA Program at the School of Business I get to work with graduate business students (about 90% of which are actually older than I am and have more years of work experience), and a majority of my students are also international students. These driven, accomplished, and business-savvy students always keep me on my toes – but I like to think that even as a new(er) professional I can still hang.

It did take a few weeks to adjust from Storrs to the Graduate Business Learning Center - a satellite location of UConn that is not quite a campus but rather multiple floors in an office building in downtown Hartford. It does lack the typical campus feel, but luckily the UConn Hartford campus is moving right down the block this summer. In no time I’ll be back to the pedestrian, car, and coffee-shop-line traffic that I’ve missed so dearly!
To me, the most difficult part of my transition has been wearing so many hats. My current role was predominantly set for admissions and academic affairs, but due to staffing shortages I’ve taken the mantel of student affairs as well. I know it’s cliché to refer to the “other duties as assigned” bullet point on the job description, but last week I had to complete a solo set up for Open House because they lost our reservation. Nobody told me there would be table and chair set-up in academic affairs. I’ve enjoyed the variety of teachable moments I’ve been thrown into and for the breadth of knowledge I’m gaining beyond my initial job description, but I look forward to having a full team again so that our collective hard work can feel better than simply “getting by.”
In short, this is not where I anticipated ending up when I started HESA, but I am thankful that my time in the program prepared me to hold my own when I traded the cow pastures of Storrs for the traffic gridlock of Hartford.

Name: Aisha Folkes
Class: 2016
Position: Towson University, Residence Life Coordinator

Back in May, I could not wait to leave Storrs behind and move to the Baltimore area. While Towson University, and the area, has been amazing; I do miss UConn. All that intentional reflection, academic atmosphere, and growing alongside cohortmates has left a scholarly void in my day to day life as a practitioner. I definitely need to make more time for reading and reflecting. But it’s hard when you’re FINALLY in a thriving metropolitan area filled with people of color, a social scene, and potential beau out there waiting for his queen. Hang in there y’all, you won’t be in Storrs forever!
As for the transition itself, surprisingly, it’s been very smooth. This is partly because I found my fit, TU is everything I wanted in a position, department, and institution. Learning my new role was the hardest part, each day I feel like there is something else new I needed to know to do my job. Mind you, this is someone born and raised in ResLife moving into a typical ResLife entry level position. Still struggled! But I was able to move past all that confusion with time, forced confidence, a smile, and natural Black girl magic. Sometimes you have to stop and breathe, forgive yourself, and realize at the end of the day it’s just work. I’m now beginning the thriving phase, trying my best to commit to excellence in my role versus barely staying above water. Stay tuned!

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