As the season changes and we enter into the crisper and cooler months, I want to send a warm and heartfelt welcome to our HESA community. This Fall semester is different from any other we have experienced before given the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and surge of anti-Blackness racism in the US. More than ever, the student affairs professional is being asked to redefine their role and re-conceptualize programming and activities to both combat anti-Blackness, simultaneously contend with the spread of a pandemic and traverse virtual and racial battle fatigue.
Throughout it all, the HESA faculty continues to excel, lead and set an example in the field of higher education and student affairs with their scholarship, leadership and activism. I invite you to visit our HESA website to see all they have been engaged with and accomplished. They work tirelessly to prepare for a virtual Fall semester and like many of us, have had to pivot, become more agile and adapt to our “new” normal. I would like to welcome both Drs. Frank Tuitt and Adam McCready to the team as well as our graduate assistant Ashley Robinson. We are excited to have this stellar compliment of scholar-practitioners within the HESA program.
The HESA program continues to engage in curriculum renewal and we will announce some exciting changes to our program in the near future. As we strive to engage our students in transforming theory to practice, the program faculty decided to sign up for a program-wide registration for this year’s ACPA21 Virtual Convention. This means that all students and faculty in our program will be able to participate in the convention, which will take place from March 1-17, 2021. The registration also includes a complimentary 1-year membership for master-students who are not currently not members.
Lastly, I want to thank our graduate assistantship and practicum site supervisors, who continue to provide invaluable on-site training and professional development for our students. Without you, our program would not be complete. As we all continue to pivot and adjust to a constantly changing climate, I ask that we show grace, support and care for each member of our community. I wish for you and your loved ones continued good health, safety and wellness.
HESA alumnus Walter Diaz, who currently serves as the Vice President for Student Affairs at Eastern Connecticut State University, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Association of Latinos in Higher Education – The Middletown Press
When she graduated in 2004 with an MA in Higher Education Administration (now the Higher Education and Student Affairs program), Meghan had already been immersed in the UConn community for a good while, having received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Storrs. Upon graduating, she began a national job search and thought a change of scenery might be nice. Then a unique opportunity
presented itself: the UConn Tri-Campus School of Business program (which has since disbanded) needed a program coordinator for their new undergraduate Business and Technology program. Meghan recognized that the position would be a special one, especially for a young professional like herself. As the coordinator of a dynamic new program, she would have lots of room for growth, development, and entrepreneurship. She decided she couldn’t pass up the opportunity, and thus began her career.
For almost 10 years, Meghan remained in that same type of role in the School of Business, albeit with a number of changes in position and a great deal of upward mobility. Teaching, advising, managing, serving as a faculty liaison, and working with student and orientation services: she did, as she puts it, “everything you can imagine from a program-level role.” She was instrumental in many vital projects such as the signing of articulation agreements with local community colleges to create transfer programs, and rolling out the Honors program to UConn regional campuses. Best of all, Meghan loved her job. “It was phenomenal,” she says.
As she approached her 10-year anniversary working with the School of Business, Meghan decided she was ready to take on a new challenge. It was then that the leadership team of UConn’s West Hartford campus (which has since moved to Hartford) pitched her an exciting opportunity as the Associate Director of Business and Student Services for UConn West Hartford. The position, which Meghan describes as a regional-level Dean of Students position, was exactly what she was looking for. In her two-year tenure in that role, she managed an “amazing” team and was able to bring her expertise to new institutional areas such as health services, First Year Experience courses, disability services, and community standards. “It was always what I’d dreamed of, going deeper into student affairs,” says Meghan.
“I was inspired by the work of my team, and I loved what I was doing.”
Soon enough, however, opportunity came knocking once again. The School of Business was conducting a national search for a new director of the MSBAPM program, and thanks to the strong relationships Meghan had built within the School over her career, the hiring committee thought of her. At first, she was reluctant to apply since she still felt inspired and challenged by her role at UConn West Hartford, but as she learned more about the role, she began to reconsider.
At the time, Meghan was serving on a number of committees to find directors of regional campuses, and she had started to notice a trend. People applying for these upper leadership roles had either exclusive undergraduate or exclusive graduate experience, but never both. “The two things I didn’t have experience with at that time were working with grad students and working with international students,” says Meghan. Not only was the MSBAPM a graduate program, but it had a significant international student population. With these factors in mind, Meghan intentionally applied for the job. She was selected as the new director, and she remains in that position today.
Meghan admits that her first year as the director was challenging. “It was an unfamiliar environment,” she says, “I missed my undergrads.” Instead of giving up, however, she realized she had to dig deep and figure out how to bring her unique skill-set to the position and “be a value-add to the institution.” Two years in, she’s made a total 180 from that challenging beginning: “I’ve realized that my background is so valuable at the graduate level,” she says. “I’ve found my niche, and we’re doing great.”
When asked what she’s most proud of having accomplished since graduating from UConn, Meghan tells a powerful story. Not long ago she ran into a former advisee of hers while she was taking her nine-year-old son to get a haircut. With Meghan’s support and his own remarkable determination, the advisee had gone from not having completed high school to graduating from UConn. He has a wife and children, a house, and he’s currently completing a UConn MBA program. When they saw each other at the barber shop, the advisee turned to Meghan’s son and said, “I need to tell you something: your mother changed my entire life.” She says this moment is one of many that keep her strong when she feels stuck or frustrated.
“Having real impact on students is what it’s all about.”
Meghan says she’s grateful to HESA for the deep foundation it gave her in student affairs. “The HESA program taught me so much about the critical roles that student affairs and services play in an institution,” she says. “HESA gave me the tools to be able to articulate the importance of that role, to advocate for it.” What’s more, Meghan is currently working on a research project with three senior faculty members at UConn Hartford. HESA, she says, gave her the educational foundation that makes her research possible.
Meghan’s advice for current HESA students and emerging practitioners can be summed up as follows: stay relevant, find your mentors (across disciplines), and be open-minded. “Even when things are challenging, figure out how you can learn or gain something from the experience,” she says. “Everything is an opportunity!”
Meghan Hanrahan is the UConn School of Business’ director of the business analytics and project management graduate program in downtown Hartford and Stamford. Hanrahan has worked for UConn for 14 years and served in a variety of roles across the institution . . . [read more]
Congratulations to Lexy Parrill (‘17) who recently received the Chester A. Berry Scholar Award at the Association of College Unions (ACUI) National Conference. The award is given annually to the author of an outstanding work of writing in the field of college unions and student activities. We caught up with Lexy to find out more about her research:
LP: My involvement in this work stems from an independent project I conducted as an undergraduate at Indiana University. The project focused on memorial unions and, like any great research project, it led me to a series of unanswered questions. Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with the Union Idea and the notion that college unions (and campus centers) are more than just facilities: they are part of an educational philosophy that brings together the community using programming and physical space.
I received this award alongside my mentor and research partner Mara Dahlgren. Mara was my advisor when I was a student at Indiana University. We have a shared appreciation for the college union idea, and we both understand the powerful role history plays in shaping our perceptions, attitudes, and–in this case–buildings. Mara is the Assistant Director of Activities and Events at the Indiana Memorial Union at Indiana University.
I received my bachelor’s degree in History, and I strongly believe that it is important to understand the context and background of an institution–in this case, the college union– in order to produce useful knowledge. When Mara and I began looking into this phenomenon, we realized there was no central database that contained basic information about college union construction, naming practices, memorialization, services, funding, missions, student involvement, etc. We decided to develop this tool, and so far we have collected 750 unique data points (and counting!) from institutions across the world.
This data has allowed us to reframe the college union story and provide data to support (and rebuke) anecdotal stories. We plan to continue to collect information from additional institutions and set up systems to maintain our existing database. We hope this tool provides a jumping point for researchers and practitioners in the field of college unions and student activities.
The HESA community wishes Lexy the best of luck as she continues to examine higher education policies and systems as part of her exciting and important research.
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