The HESA program is excited to welcome two new full-time faculty members to the HESA program! Dr. Gerardo Blanco and Dr. H. Kenny Nienhusser will join the HESA team beginning in fall 2018. Learn more about each of them below:
Dr. Gerardo Blanco (he/him/his pronouns) is currently an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He was born in Mexico and is, very proudly, a first-generation college graduate. He holds graduate degrees (M.Ed., 2007; Ed.D., 2013) from The University of Maine and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Gerardo’s research interests focus on international higher education, assessment practices, and quality improvement in higher education. He has authored or co-authored articles that document the complexities of higher education leadership and internationalization in different countries, including China, Mexico, and the Philippines. Gerardo’s teaching focuses on international higher education, research methods, and leadership and management in higher education. His experience as a student affairs professional focused on residential education, multicultural student services, and advisement of LGBTQ learning communities.
Dr. H. Kenny Nienhusser currently works as an Assistant Professor in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership in the College of Education, Nursing, and Health Professions at the University of Hartford. He holds an EdD in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. He also holds a MSW and a BA in Economics, both from Stony Brook University. As a first-generation Latino college student who grew up in a working-class household of immigrant parents, diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the core of his work as a researcher, teacher, and scholar-citizen. His research interests include higher education access of underserved adolescents and the majority of his research has examined the educational policy environment for undocumented and DACAmented students in relation to their postsecondary education access. Kenny has more than 15 years of professional experience—in Student and Academic Affairs—in several types of higher education institutions.
HESA extends a special thank-you to the members of the search committee:
Dr. Richard Schwab (Search Committee Chair, Raymond Neag Endowed Professor of Educational Leadership)
Dr. Laura Burton (Associate Professor of Sport Management, Department of Educational Leadership)
Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya (Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs, Department of Educational Leadership)
Stacey Murdock (Assistant to the Vice President for Administrative Services)
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.
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.
In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Connecticut schools welcomed a wave of Puerto Rican students who had been displaced from their homes and communities on the island. This February, the HESA program and campus partners (the Department of Educational Leadership, HESA students, and the HESA village) ran a winter clothing drive to benefit newly-arrived Puerto Rican students at two local high schools.
Professor Milagros Castillo-Montoya, who spearheaded the project, initially approached Christina Rivera, an Ed.D. student in the Department of Educational Leadership, with the idea. Rivera was able to connect Professor Castillo-Montoya with the two Connecticut schools that expressed the need for donations: Hartford Public High School and Windham High school.
Once the school connections had been made, Castillo-Montoya said, the HESA and EDLR communities mobilized to collect a total of 270 items, which included coats, jackets, boots, scarves, pants, and gloves. HESA practicum student Jessica Gramajo Vivas created a flyer to notify the HESA and EDLR communities of the opportunity to donate items, and HESA Student and Staff Development Manager Danielle DeRosa coordinated with current HESA students to distribute donation boxes to collect items.
“The success achieved in so little time would not have been possible without the people who helped get the word out, HESA students who collected donations at their respective assistantship sites, assistantship site and practicum site supervisors who allowed donations to get collected there, and everyone who donated,” said Castillo-Montoya. She also highlighted donations from EDLR faculty, HESA students, and the entire HESA village.
“For these high school students and their families, some of which are living in shelters, this made a big difference,” said Castillo-Montoya. “Thank you to all who got involved and helped make this happen.” While unable to assist in all hurricane relief efforts, this drive was an opportunity for the HESA and EDLR communities to build on existing relationships and support local students in a targeted and timely way.
Congratulations to Julia Anderson (‘18) and Lisa Famularo ('18) who successfully won first place in the American College Personnel Association’s (ACPA) 2018 Winter Case Study Competition for graduate students. The competition, which was was sponsored by the ACPA’s Graduate Student and New Professional Community of Practice, brought graduate students from programs across the nation to compete against one another. Students assumed responsibilities as acting members in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to create an 8-10 minute video which outlined an action plan to address the concerns of a specific transgender student. Through this lens, participants grappled with the treatment transgender students face on campuses nationwide in the current political climate. We caught up with current HESA students Julia and Lisa to talk a little more about the competition.
The challenge for this competition focused on building an inclusive higher education environment (specifically for trans students). Can you talk about why inclusivity in higher education is so important, and how you’re learning to be inclusive in your practice?
JA: This case study centered on a trans student who was concerned about her career goals unravelling, and she was also reporting that she was being misgendered by professors on campus. As someone who has worked with students facing similar situations, I am so thankful to work on a campus with a designated resource for LGBTQ+ students. Not all campuses are designed this way, so all student affairs practitioners must be prepared to support all students they encounter. This is a commitment that we must make anew each day – I work to re-commit myself to inclusivity by consistently considering intersections of identity within the LGBTQ+ community.
LF: The years a student spends in college can sometimes be some of the most influential years of their life. Because the primary reason students pursue higher education is typically to learn, it is important for higher education professionals to create and maintain spaces where every student feels comfortable enough to learn; there is nothing more distracting than feeling alienated, unwanted, or uncomfortable. One of the founding values of the field of student affairs is to tend to the whole student, so it is vital that student affairs professionals take the whole student into account when planning programs, events, and services in order to be inclusive and equity-minded. As a young student affairs professional about to fully enter the field, I believe that one of the most powerful equity-minded practices I have learned is challenging the underlying assumptions for each decision that is being made in order to avoid perpetuating assumptions that are biased, inequitable, or wholly incorrect. I believe this practice can and will little-by-little identify and eradicate some of the problematic assumptions and resulting decisions that persist in higher education today.
How did your UConn HESA experience help you with this challenge?
LF: My UConn HESA experience both directly and indirectly gave me the knowledge and skills I needed to be successful in this competition. When putting together our plan to address the issues presented in the case, Julia and I relied on information about student development
theory we learned in our classes, programming/campaign ideas that have proven successful in our assistantships, and the connections we have made with various offices on UConn's campus throughout our time in the HESA Program. In the end, we were successfully able to develop a plan to follow up with a student in crisis, put on support and educational programming, and establish beneficial campus partnerships to work towards a more inclusive campus climate.
JA: I believe that I was equipped to respond to students in crisis by my assistantship in the Rainbow Center. There, I work with students who are encountering difficulties related to their gender identity every day, and we work together to find and enact solutions.
What does this award mean for you and your career goals?
JA: This award was based on our recommendations for a case study about a transgender student who was experiencing difficulties in her personal, professional, and academic life. I am seeking positions in LGBTQ+ services, and my assistantship is in the Rainbow Center, so this award was an affirmation of the work I do each day.
LF: I am proud of achieving first place in this case study competition sponsored by a national organization because it shows that the knowledge and experience I have gained in the UConn HESA Program truly does make me stand out from other graduate students in the field. I plan to pursue a career as either a career counselor or career coach for college students, and in order to do so successfully, I need to be able to work effectively with students from a variety of backgrounds. This case, especially since it was focused on supporting a student with a marginalized identity, was putting my abilities in this regard to the test, and winning first place was an encouraging indication that I am headed in the right direction.